ATLANTA - Kari Lehtonen's first few minutes on the ice after missing seven weeks with a sore back didn't go well: Two shots faced, two goals allowed.
Lehtonen made a quick recovery. He didn't let another puck get past him until late in the Atlanta Thrashers' 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
"After that, I found my game," Lehtonen said.
Lehtonen may have played his best in the third period despite giving up the second of two goals by Martin St. Louis. The goalie protected the lead even as Tampa Bay outshot the Thrashers 24-6 in the period.
"He sure picked it up in the third period," said Atlanta coach John Anderson, who winced when he saw the disparity in shots on goal in the final period.
"Yikes," Anderson said.
Lehtonen stopped 36 shots overall, including 31 in a row after Tampa Bay's two goals in the first 8:15.
"It ended up being a good game," Lehtonen said. "The start wasn't the way I wanted it. The first two shots went in. I didn't give up. ... It was great to see the guys respond. Hopefully, I can help this team win games."
Lehtonen made his first start since Oct. 30 to help lift Atlanta to its fourth win in 16 games.
Slava Kozlov, Eric Perrin, Todd White and Joey Crabb scored for the Thrashers.
St. Louis had two power-play goals for Tampa Bay, including a shot with 2:32 left in the third period that cut Atlanta's lead to 4-3.
St. Louis didn't have enough help as the Lightning fell to 4-15 in one-goal games.
"It's frustrating," St. Louis said. "I don't think there are enough guys that really want to win."
The last-place Lightning have lost 17 of 19.
"When you're six or seven games above .500, everything is rosy," St. Louis said. "... When you're in our situation, it's plain and simple embarrassing."
Added Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith, who stopped 26 shots: "This is an all-time low. It's embarrassing. It makes me sick to my stomach."
Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said his team may have relaxed after the two early goals by Adam Hall and St. Louis.
"Some guys thought it was going to be easy," Tocchet said. "They weren't respecting the opponent.
"The coaching staff is running out of answers. We roll up our sleeves and give them the information to play good. To see the way they played the first two periods was disheartening. I feel bad for our fans."
Kozlov's unassisted goal gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead 18 seconds in before Tampa Bay ended an 0-for-27 power-play drought on the first goal by St. Louis.
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead when Jussi Jokinen took the puck behind Atlanta's net and set up Hall's shot past Lehtonen.
Atlanta took some pressure off Lehtonen by closing the first period with two more goals. Perrin's rebound of Boris Valabik's shot tied it 2-2. The Thrashers took a 3-2 lead on White's power-play goal off a pass from Bryan Little with 1:37 left in the period.
Atlanta stretched its lead to 4-2 with the rookie Crabb's second NHL goal about 4 minutes into the third period.
The Thrashers ended a seven-game losing streak at home, including two defeats in overtime.
Notes: Tampa Bay had only a combined 15 shots in the first two periods. ... Thrashers D Martin Schneider returned after missing eight games because of a shoulder injury, but D Garnet Exelby was scratched after learning he has been playing for two weeks with a hairline fracture in his lower right leg. ... Atlanta won at home for the first time since beating Carolina 3-2 on Nov. 14.