In one of the more exciting games of the season so far, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 in overtime. The Bolts were on the second night of a road back-to-back down three of their best players. But that didn’t stop them from earning two points against the defending Stanley Cup finalist from the Western Conference.
The big story entering the game was standout rookie defender Mikhail Sergachev being a healthy scratch for the Lightning. The coaching staff didn’t address it before the game. Sergachev had a couple of rough games in a row and took a bad penalty last night so it makes sense that might have been the reasoning behind him not playing.
Mikhail Sergachev is a healthy scratch tonight against #Preds. Rookie has struggled recently. You can bet 4-minute penalty is part of it— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) January 24, 2018
Sergachev being in the press box meant that the Lightning were even thinner on the blue line. Already missing Victor Hedman for the next few weeks, the Bolts had Anton Stralman as their only true top-four defender. After him, the blue line consisted of Jake Dotchin, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr. Not exactly a confidence-inspiring bunch.
The weakness on the back end was obvious almost immediately. The Predators dominated the first ten minutes of the game. That stretch was one of the worst for the Lightning at any point this season. The Preds pushed play and generated repeated chances on the rush. The star for the Lightning early was backup goaltender Louis Domingue who made several difficult saves to keep the team in the game.
Despite the one-way traffic, the Bolts scored the first goal. Viktor Arvidsson committed a horrific turnover in his own zone feeding a perfect pass to Chris Kunitz who scored on a wide-open shot from the slot. The shot was only the second that Predators’ goalie Jusse Saros faced on the night but he had no chance to make a save.
Nashville answered on the scoreboard a few minutes later when Ryan Ellis fired a shot from the high slot past Domingue on the power play. The Preds were so dominant during that stretch that the goal felt inevitable.
Nashville continued to apply pressure and added another goal just two minutes later in a bizarre sequence. Viktor Arvidsson appeared to score on the rush but the goal wasn’t called on the ice. Instead, play continued. Just a few seconds later, the Predators scored again on the rush as Calle Jarnkrok beat Louis Domingue. But after the Jarnkrok goal, the officials reviewed the Arvidsson goal and saw that it went in the net. They called that a good goal and reset the clock erasing Jarnkrok’s goal. So even though they scored two goals in quick succession, the Predators were only credited for one.
Somewhat miraculously, the Lightning tied the game shortly after the goal review. Steven Stamkos passed to Vlad Namestnikov on a 2 on 1 and Vladdy beat Saros. At that point, the Lightning had just four shots on goal and two of them ended up in the net.
Over the second half of the period, the Bolts played much better. They started to tilt the ice back the other direction and closed the gap in shots significantly. By the first intermission, they took a slight lead in expected goals at 5v5 and were looking much more competitive. Even so, the coaching staff was clearly unhappy with the start of the game and canceled the intermission interview presumably so head coach Jon Cooper could light up the team for the full fifteen minutes.
The Lightning picked up their play even more to start the second period. They pushed play and created multiple chances on Saros. The Preds goaltender kept his team in the game and prevented the Lightning from taking the lead. The Bolts started to fade as the period progressed and Nashville regained control of the game.
With under two minutes left in the period, Dan Girardi took a bad interference penalty as Nashville was trying to start their breakout. There wasn’t any immediate threat and he had no reason to throw a hit so late after the pass. That penalty resulted in the Predators taking the lead on a power-play goal by PK Subban with under a minute left.
The Lightning challenged the call saying that Arvidsson had interfered with Domingue. Arvidsson skated across the crease to screen the Bolts goalie and made contact in the process. His skate hooked Domingue and spun him away from the far side of the net where Subban’s shot went. Domingue was a bit out of his crease at the time of contact. Even with the contact, the goal stood as called.
Despite playing relatively well at 5v5 after a terrible start, the Bolts headed into the third period trailing 3-2 largely because of two power-play goals.
The third period continued at a similar pace to the second. The Bolts generated more chances as would be expected from a trailing team. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to finish them early in the period. They had two power plays and weren’t able to generate much pressure on either.
With just a few minutes left in the game, the Lightning struck back to tie the game. Slater Koekkoek made an excellent play at the offensive blue line to hold the puck in the zone. He then made a pass to Steven Stamkos who scored on a one-timer from his comfy spot in the left circle.
After the goal, both teams seemed to content to at least get a point and the game headed to overtime.
The overtime period was back and forth as usual at 3v3 but the Predators weren’t able to generate any chances that put Domingue under pressure. The Lightning got the first good chance when Steven Stamkos found some space and nearly beat Saros. Brayden Point had an opportunity on the rush 1v1 with Subban but wasn’t able to beat him to get a clean shot on Saros.
Finally, an unlikely threesome of Dan Girardi, Vlad Namestnikov, Yanni Gourde created the goal that earned the second point for the Lightning. Girardi started to play with the entry and pass to Gourde. Gourde got the puck to Vladdy who slid it back to Gourde for an easy back post tap-in.
Frankly, the Lightning were lucky to be in this game after the first ten minutes. They could have easily been down 4-0. But they weren’t and they were competitive for the rest of the game ultimately pulling out an improbable win. This roster is far from the best the Lightning have. Palat, Hedman, and Sergachev are all crucial parts of the team. But the players who were available showed this is a deep team that can compete with even the best teams under less than ideal circumstances.
The Lightning have one more game before the All-Star break. That will be on Thursday in Philadelphia against the Flyers. They’ll look to end the first half of the season on a three-game win streak and put the fan base in a good mood heading into a big party weekend in Tampa.