TAMPA – The Antero Niittymaki jinx continues -- sort of.
Tampa Bay’s Jeff Halpern scored in the fifth round of a shootout to give the Lightning a 2-1 victory over the Thrashers on Saturday at St. Pete Times Forum.
Thrashers goaltender Johan Hedberg stopped the first four shots he faced, but Halpern slipped the game-winner between his legs.
For the Thrashers, Max Afinogenov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little, Rich Peverley and Todd White could not get the puck past Niittymaki, who is 15-0-0 in his career against the Thrashers. At least they earned a point Saturday.
“Not really,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said when asked if he was happy his team salvaged a point against the Lightning. “We play a game like that, and I thought we dominated the play, and we don’t get two and give the team right behind us a chance to tie us.”
The Thrashers (22-21-8, 52 points) are tied with the Lightning (21-20-10) in the standings.
The Thrashers got to the shootout after killing a 4-on-3 power play in overtime. Pavel Kubina was called for interference on Martin St. Louis.
“As a team we had a very strong game,” Hedberg said. “It’s very unfortunate we couldn’t win. We killed off that penalty and had our own chance. It hurts.”
The teams traded first-period goals. The Thrashers scored first on Nik Antropov’s 13th goal of the season 5:23 into the game. Pavel Kubina put a shot on net that Bryan Little corralled and slid to a wide-open Antropov. The center snapped a shot that beat Niittymaki to the high-glove side.
The Lightning countered 2:05 later on another 4-on-3 power play. With Colby Armstrong and Steve Downie in the box on roughing calls, Kubina was called for interference, again on St. Louis. After the Thrashers cleared the puck once, the Lightning re-entered the zone, setting up for Steven Stamkos to rip a shot past Hedberg. It was Stamkos’ 27th goal of the season.
“The only goal they scored was 4-on-3,” Anderson said. “It was a phantom call. I don’t know what happened. He ran into our guy. We got the penalty.”
Niittymaki entered the game with a career record of 14-0-0 against Atlanta with 1.86 GAA, including a 4-3 win on Nov. 22.
“We had point-blank chances on Niittymaki, and he shut the door,” Rich Peverley said.
The Thrashers held a 38-26 shots-on-goal advantage, but it was the lack of a power play that again bothered Anderson. The Thrashers were 0-6 with a man-advantage. They are now 6-for-73 over the past 17 games.
“The power play didn’t score again, and that’s a pretty sore spot with me right now,” Anderson said.
The Thrashers finished a five-game stretch against teams it led in the standings with a 2-2-1 record. With a chance to get firmly back in the playoff race, they are struggling.
“Every game is important,” Kubina said. “We know what we have to do to make the playoffs. There are still a lot of games to play. We are few points from the playoffs and also a few points from the bottom of our conference.”
The game was hard hitting and featured a couple of big fights. Boris Valabik and Zenon Konopka had a first-period fight, and Eric Boulton and Matt Walker battled in the second period.
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