Thrashers gain ground on Lightning


TAMPA, Fla. – Atlanta is alive and well in the NHL playoff chase.

Andy Sutton and Bobby Holik each scored twice and Mike Dunham stopped 32 shots Tuesday night to help the Thrashers tighten the race for the last two positions in the Eastern Conference with a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ninth-place Atlanta moved within four points of the eighth-place Lightning and can pull even closer to the defending Stanley Cup champion by beating Washington at home on Thursday night. The Thrashers have 85 points with four games remaining, while Tampa Bay has 89 – two less than seventh-place Montreal – with three games to go.

Marian Hossa and Steve McCarthy also scored for the Thrashers, who have remained in playoff contention by winning their last two games with Dunham in goal in place of the injured Kari Lehtonen.

The Atlanta goalie made 23 saves Saturday to beat Carolina for his first win since Nov. 13 and was so good Tuesday night that the Thrashers were able to build a 6-1 lead despite being outshot 23-17 in the first two periods.

Tampa Bay won five of the first seven meetings between the Southeast Division rivals this season, but sputtered this time after taking a 1-0 lead on Dmitry Afanasenkov’s goal less than 6 minutes into the game.

Sutton tied it with his first goal and Holik’s first gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead after one period. The Thrashers broke it open with four more goals in the first 15 minutes of the second period.

The Lightning removed goalie Sean Burke after McCarthy’s goal made it 5-1 only to watch Marian Hossa beat John Grahame for a short-handed goal that sent many in the crowd of 19,829 scurrying for the exits with more than 5 minutes remaining in the period.

Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis scored a power-play goal in the third period, but the Lightning were unable to do further damage against Dunham.

Notes: Burke was 8-0 lifetime against Atlanta before Tuesday night. The Thrashers scored on five of 14 shots against him. … Graham stopped nine of 10 shots. … Lehtonen did not dress for the second straight game since injuring his left ankle last Thursday in a collision with Tampa Bay’s Chris Dingman. … Brad Richards’ assist on Tampa Bay’s first goal gave him at least one in 11 of the Lightning’s last 12 games.

AP-ES-04-11-06 2211EDT