ATLANTA – Steven Stamkos likes when coach Rick Tocchet tells the Tampa Bay Lightning to attack the net.
“From a team perspective, I thought we played pretty solid and stuck to the game plan,” Stamkos said. “We got lots of shots on net. We were forechecking, hard hitting.” Stamkos scored his 15th goal at 2:56 of overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning their second straight win, 4-3 over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday.
The Thrashers, who ended five-game homestand with three straight losses, tied it 3-3 on Slava Kozlov’s second goal and rookie Evander Kane’s seventh during a 1:52 span late in the third period.
But Stamkos, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, ended the game by taking Martin St. Louis’ pass from the left circle and beating Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec with a tip-in.
Stamkos was just glad the Lightning recovered after nearly blowing a 3-1 lead in the third.
“It’s just a matter of protecting the lead,” he said. “We can’t expect to do that and win overtime after giving up those two goals.”
St. Louis, who had three assists to push his season total to 19, was pleased Tampa Bay ended a streak of 10 straight games in which it was outshot.
“We wanted to get more shots tonight,” St. Louis said. “We got some second opportunities.”
Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who has won 15 straight against the Southeast Division and three of four overall, improved to 15-0-0 in his career against Atlanta.
Niittymaki stopped 28-of-31 shots to show why he began the game as the NHL leader with a 1.93 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.
Improving to 6-1-3 in his first season with Tampa Bay, Niittymaki didn’t face a shot in overtime.
“Hopefully, he can keep it up,” Lightning forward Ryan Malone said. “He made some big saves.”
Stephane Veilleux’s first goal of the season gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 5:45 into the second. With just 24 seconds left in the period, Malone used a wrister to score his 14th goal and put Tampa Bay up 2-0.
Atlanta made it 2-1 on Tobias Enstrom’s third goal, a wrister from the slot, with 14:31 remaining.
Less than four minutes later, however, defenceman Kurtis Foster put the Lightning ahead by two again with a slapshot on the game’s only power-play goal. Foster’s first goal came with nine seconds left on a man-advantage.
The Thrashers, who have outscored opponents 32-13 in the third period this season, continued their trend of slow starts, dropping to 1-8-2 when trailing after two periods.
Lapses in concentration disappointed Atlanta coach John Anderson.
“They should be embarrassed after the first two periods,” Anderson said. “That’s the term that comes to mind. You get dejected because you feel you wasted the first two periods.”
Anderson sounded as if he plans to keep reminding his players about avoiding poor starts.
“It’s a game we had to have,” Anderson said. “We talked about that. It didn’t look like a must-win. It looked like, ‘Oh, let’s see what we can do and then come back in the third period.”‘
Tampa Bay has earned a point in eight straight games, and the Lightning are reversing a trend of playing poorly on the road. Since losing 6-2 Nov. 2 at Philadelphia, Tampa Bay is 4-1-2 away from home.
“It’s the resiliency of the team,” Tocchet said. “Stamkos made a nice play to win it.”
NOTES: Stamkos and Malone, who have combined for 29 goals, began the game tied for second-most in the NHL as a teammate tandem. … Pavelec has lost two straight starts, falling to 6-6-2 after stopping 36 of 40 shots. … The Lightning improved to 6-0-0 when leading after two periods. … Atlanta’s series record dropped to 28-20-10, including 18-7-5 at Philips Arena.