Thrashers finish with franchise-best 78 points


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The future is looking brighter for the
Atlanta Thrashers.

Kari Lehtonen made 29 saves, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 41st
goal of the season during a two-goal third period as the Thrashers
beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Saturday night.

"If he wasn't the first star, I don't know who was," Atlanta
forward Shawn McEachern said of Lehtonen. "He was great tonight
and that's a big guy to have for next year. He's a great goalie. I
can't wait until next year to see him play."

Lehtonen has won all four career starts for Atlanta since being
recalled from the minors March 12. He equaled Pasi Nurminen's team
record of four straight wins set Nov. 16-23, 2003.

"Everything in these four games went so perfect," Lehtonen
said. "A few times I was lucky when they got chances to score, but
that's just the way it goes sometimes."

It was the regular-season finale for both teams. The Lightning
enter the playoffs against the New York Islanders as the top-seeded
team in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has not reached the
postseason in its five NHL seasons.

"We know we've got the Islanders," Lightning defenseman Pavel
Kubina said. "We have four days to prepare for Thursday night."

Kovalchuk tied it at 1 with a breakaway goal 4:11 into the
third. He is tied with Columbus' Rick Nash for the NHL league lead
in goals. Jarome Iginla of Calgary has 40 and will finish the
regular season Sunday at Anaheim.

McEachern put the Thrashers ahead 2-1 with his first goal in 10
games, scored from the left circle at 7:04 of the third.

The Thrashers, who finished with a franchise-best 78 points, won
seven times this season when trailing after two periods (7-29-3-2).

Martin St. Louis picked up his NHL-leading 94th point on a
second-period goal for the Lightning. He is seven points ahead of
Colorado's Joe Sakic in the scoring race.

"Sakic's got a game (Sunday) ... we'll see what happens," St.
Louis said. "Am I going to look at the game? I don't know. But
I'll be pleased if they don't score seven goals."

St. Louis put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 from the right circle during a
three-on-one 4:42 into the period. The goal came one second after
Tampa Bay killed off a penalty.

While short-handed, the Lightning had several scoring chances,
including a penalty shot.

Lehtonen stopped Vincent Lecavalier's breakaway when the Tampa
Bay forward was hooked on the play at 2:55. On the penalty shot,
Lecavalier sent a backhander wide.

Cory Stillman also had a breakaway, but lost control of the

Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin had 21 saves.

"We played hard, we stayed healthy, and now the good stuff
happens," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.

Game notes
Lehtonen will rejoin Chicago of the AHL for the playoffs.
... Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk is Tampa Bay's nominee for
the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to a player who demonstrates
perseverance and dedication to hockey. ... Atlanta RW J.P. Vigier
missed his second straight game with a facial laceration. ...
Thrashers LW Vyacheslav Kozlov played in his 800th NHL game. ...
Atlanta D Kyle Rossiter assisted on McEachern's goal for his first
career point.