The Boston Bruins managed to only get a point in their loss to the Philadelphia Flyer earlier in the day. This provided the Lightning a chance to come into a tie with the Bruins if they were able to to defeat the Nashville Predators at home on Sunday night. However, after being embarrassed by the Buffalo Sabres the night before, the Nashville Predators handled the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-1. The loss has them trailing the Boston Bruins by two points for the division lead.
An aggressive start in the opening period was exactly what the Lightning needed to reinforce the point that this team is, in fact, a contender. Tampa Bay did just that, but still found themselves trailing by the end of the period. As has been the case this season, Tampa Bay’s forecheck and speed created problems for Nashville throughout the opening frame. However, a few missed/poor passes mixed in with some odd bounces killed more than a few offensive opportunities for the Lightning.
The first was on the power-play when a weak pass by Steven Stamkos near the left wing boards, intended for Victor Hedman, was intercepted by Ryan Hartman. Hedman was put in a poor position by this and had to hustle just to disrupt Hartman’s breakaway. Unfortunately, he took a holding penalty on the play and neutralized Tampa’s man advantage.
After some 4-on-4 play and a very short Nashville power-play the Lightning continued to dictate the pace of the play, but a broken play led to an odd-man rush for the Predators that ended up in the back of the Lightning net. A clearing attempt from behind the Predators net swung around towards the right-wing boards.
Nikita Kucherov was there to recover it, but it bounced past him and towards the blueline. Dan Girardi managed to keep it in the offensive zone, but Filip Forsberg managed to recover it near him. Forsberg then fed a pass to a streaking Ryan Johansen. The only defender back was Ryan McDonagh and he played the two-on-one well, but Johansen simply sniped one past Vasilevskiy to give the Predators the lead just 7:50 into the game.
Tampa Bay wouldn’t relent, however, as they continued to attack Nashville throughout the period. Another power-play midway through the period provided Tampa Bay a chance to even the score, but they only managed to generate two dangerous shots that were denied by Juuse Saros. By the end of the opening period the score remained 1-0 Nashville, but Tampa Bay had the shot advantage 12-7.
Entering the second, Tampa attempted to continue their aggressive play, but an untimely penalty to Ondrej Palat for interference negated any kind of early momentum for the Lightning. For most of the ensuing penalty the Lightning managed to negate Nashville’s man advantage, however, with one second left on the power-play Filip Forsberg deked around Braydon Coburn and fired a shot towards the net. Anton Stralman’s stick got a piece of the shot and it sailed into the air. Vasilevskiy appeared to not see where the puck went until it was too late and was too slow to react to the shot. He managed to get a piece of puck, but it still rolled past him to give Nashville a two-goal cushion just 2:46 into the second period.
The following few minutes consisted of largely even play between both teams until a hyper-aggressive Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli made their presence known on the forecheck a little over seven minutes in. Palat forced a turnover behind the Nashville net and pushed it along the boards where Austin Watson tried to move it up and out of his zone. Cirelli caught up with him, zoned him off the puck, and enabled Stralman to feed a pass to Palat (who had motioned himself into the slot). Palat fired it past Saros to make it 2-1 and provide a spark for Tampa Bay.
The remaining 12:29 of the second period was completely controlled by Tampa Bay. Their aggression and forecheck created all kinds of chaos for Nashville. The Predators began taking penalties because of this and Tampa Bay had three opportunities to utilize the second best man advantage in the league to even the score.
It should be noted that Steven Stamkos left early in the second period due to a lower-body injury and did not return for the rest of the game.
Stamkos’s absence was noticeable on the power-play as the man-advantages Tampa Bay received were unproductive and stymied by Nashville’s aggressive penalty kill. The second opportunity was more productive in the sense that they managed to put shots on net reliably, but that attempt was also shut down by Saros and the Predators.
Tampa Bay was not deterred, however, as their aggressive forecheck repeatedly cause the Predators to turtle in the defensive zone and hope for a clearing attempt. It culminated in the Predators taking a late penalty for delay of game—providing the Lightning with over a minute of power-play time to start the third.
The man advantage that Tampa Bay had to start the third was once again ineffective, but unlike the previous period where Tampa Bay continued to dictate play the Predators proceeded to clamp down defensive. The Lightning struggled to get any kind of sustained pressure whenever they entered the offensive zone, and when they did it was it turned over along the boards or by a poor pass.
Speaking of poor passes—Braydon Coburn made a cross-zone pass along the offensive blueline towards Dan Girardi, but the pass was a bit too far ahead of Girardi. Girardi read the play correctly and backed up as Forsberg recovered the puck and moved up the ice. Where Girardi made a mistake was how he covered Forsberg—he gave the young Swede too much space on the outside and he proceeded to skate around Girardi. Once Vasilevskiy committed to moving with Forsberg, the Predators forward slipped it past his trailing leg to give Nashville a 3-1 lead.
Three minutes later Craig Smith, somehow, got behind the Lightning defense and was given a beautiful stretch pass by Mathias Ekholm. Smith skated in on Vasilevskiy on a partial breakaway and beat him on the far side to make it 4-1 with 10:31 left in regulation.
Nashville proceeded to clamp down defensively while the Lightning continued to turn the puck over. As the back half of the third period progressed, Tampa Bay looked like a completely different team than the one that was playing for the first 40 minutes. Turnovers, poor passing, blown coverage—you name it and Tampa Bay was probably doing it. Nashville closed the door and choked the life out of the Lightning to seal the win.
The Process for the first 40 minutes
Through two periods, Tampa Bay was the better team. Nashville had capitalized on a defensive mistake and a deflection, but outside of that, the Predators offense was largely quite for 40 minutes. Tampa Bay’s forecheck and aggression were on display yet again and they had a few dangerous chances that were either deflected out of play, missed the net, or were stopped by Juuse Saros.
You could see Tampa Bay controlling play and making the Predators scramble, and that’s a positive in light of this loss. What Tampa Bay needs moving forward is to finish the chances they’re generating.
Nashville dominated the third period. Tampa was unable to generate much offensive pressure thanks to the Predators locking down their own end. Tampa Bay’s missed opportunities from the first 40 minutes came back to haunt them as Nashville flustered them in the third and capitalized on their chances.
Whatever offensive flow the Lightning had for the first two periods was sucked out of them for the third. Passes to nowhere, turning the puck over at both bluelines, a propensity to hold onto the puck for too long, and looking like the tired team were all evident in the third.
Another game, another failed attempt at a full 60-minute effort.
Let me hear what you all have to say.