Lightning gets a point but ...

Plenty of scoring chances net only one goalbefore division rival Atlanta wins it in OT.

By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008

ATLANTA - Lightning forward Craig MacDonald seemed pained while recounting his shot that hit the post during the third period against the Thrashers.

"If it hits a half-inch the other way ... " he said.

Same for wing Jason Ward, whose overtime tip-in try hit goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

Tampa Bay did just about everything right Saturday night. It won battles, skated and created, coach John Tortorella figured, about 20 scoring chances.

It just couldn't finish in a 2-1 loss at Philips Arena that ended with Alexei Zhitnik's goal at 1:26.

Usually, getting five of six points on a three-game road trip is applauded. But for the Lightning (23-27-6), fighting for its playoff life, every point is precious. That Southeast Division-leading Carolina lost made it worse.

Tampa Bay's point gave it 52, six behind Carolina and Atlanta with two games in hand on each. But as Ward said: "You definitely go home with your head up. It's just those divisional games are so important right now. The one extra point is crucial. After playing that well, it would have been nice to get that point."

But other than Vinny Lecavalier's 32nd goal with 7:12 left in the second period, the Lightning, which lost a six-game road win streak, could not solve Lehtonen, who made 27 saves.

Johan Holmqvist, who lost a five-game road win streak, played well with 20 saves but was screened on Marian Hossa's goal 4:18 into the third period.

On Zhitnik's goal on a three-on-two, Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba was without a stick that snapped while taking a shot. Ward fell in the Thrashers zone as he tried to get back.

"It's frustrating when it's your guy that goes by you," he said.

But Tortorella found no fault.

"It was probably our best game of the trip," he said. "Everybody gave us something. We played hard. We were underneath the hash marks the whole night. Lehtonen was the difference."