Game 31: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Atlanta Thrashers

Last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in shootout, in a even-handed game that illustrated the struggle between the Southeastern conferences second and third-ranked teams.

The game, though not wildly exciting, was an important win for Tampa Bay for several reasons.

First, the win offered a needed vote of confidence for Mike Smith, who had a decent game. Smith only allowed one goal from Atlanta's Rich Peverly (shorthanded) in the first, but didn't let it affect his confidence through the rest of the game, as we often see with Smith.

Boucher said afterwards that Smith had been putting in the effort with goalie coach Frantz, and that Smith went in "feeling prepared"; Boucher didn't evidence a lot of surprise at Smith's success, considering amount of work he's put in. What it demonstrates is how much of a mental game it is for goaltenders, and especially for Smith.

Sean Bergenheim scored the lone Lightning goal in regulation, coming off of Randy Jones' play in the neutral zone. Bergie (Isberg?) bounced it off the boards and took a rebound off of his own shot to get the goal in to tie the score 1-1 five minutes into the second.

Bergenheim's goal is in part, the result of the game's bigger headline: the return of Vincent Lecavalier. It seemed like as unexpected to Vinny as it was to all of us.

"It was kind of a last minute thing. I felt good this morning, I felt good yesterday so we decided to try it and I felt really good tonight. I thought that my legs would be tired in my first game back but I had a hop in my skating and got so many opportunities with my line. We didn't bury them but we had a pretty good game."

Fans were excited, and applauded Vinny as he took his first shift on and off the ice, clearly excited to see the veteran back with the team.

Vinny had 4 shots on goal, but also had a 69% faceoff win percentage, winning 11 of out 16 faceoffs.
Bergenheim commented, unsurprisingly, that is is great having him back. "He's a superstar, he's a great, great player, and captain of the team, so it's really significant to have a player like that back."

While we saw little from Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis this evening, Vinny's presence elevated the team confidence, and was an asset to the win.

The game, however, went into overtime, and into shootout, and saw another surprise when the lone shootout goal was scored by Victor Hedman in the fourth round. Boucher noted afterwards that Hedman had been "looking at him with those eyes" since the game in Edmonton, and finally decided to give him a chance.

Tampa Bay will play the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at home, so stop by the game thread and say hello.

Other recaps:

Thrashers vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]

Thrashers vs Lightning recap [TSN]

Thrashers vs Lightning boxscore [TSN]

Bird Watchers Anonymous [SB Nation]