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Special Teams were a big part of the story in the Lightning’s win over Nashville

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Hoo boy, was that wild.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It was certainly a wild night in Nashville as the Lightning pulled off the 3-2 win in overtime over the Predators. We had a couple of hits to the head, a fight, and a lot of special teams. Let’s dive in to it, shall we?

Brayden Point Elbowed by Ryan Johansen

About half way through the second period, Point caught an elbow in the head from Johansen. Johansen was turning his body to follow the puck around the boards with Point bearing down on him. As he turned, Johansen elevated his elbow and hit Point in the face leading to a bloody nose for Point. The referees decided it was deserving of a major and went to the tablet to review the play, which is a new feature this season. I believe this is the first one we have seen in a Lightning game this season. After reviewing it, the referees confirmed the major penalty.

Now, I’d rather just forget that the five minute power play even happened. Nashville did an excellent job of clogging up the middle and the blue line and preventing the Lightning from getting into the zone and getting set up. The Lightning only got one shot on net and maybe a couple more that were blocked or missed the net. But the Predators? They got at least three shots in on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Geez.

Anyways, like Erik Cernak’s suspension for two games for elbowing Rasmus Dahlin in the head, I would expect that we’re looking at at least the same kind of suspension for Johansen. Johansen has been suspended once before for two games because of a high sticking incident. Because that suspension happened within the last 18 months, a suspension will hurt Johansen’s pocket book a little harder, but doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be suspended for more games.

The Department of Player Safety does consider past transgressions when considering lengths of suspensions though so we’ll have to wait to see. The Predators don’t play again until Saturday, so there is a little bit of time for the hearing to happen and be settled. I would guess the hearing will happen tomorrow and we’ll find out later in the day what the verdict is.

On a separate note, Cernak had an incident in the third period where he ran into a board battle and hit a Predator in the head. He was given a minor for checking the head and the Predators bench was upset it wasn’t called a major after Johansen was given one. I don’t know if it will rise to the level of a suspension, but with him just coming off of a suspension, it won’t be a surprise if he gets another call from the Department of Player Safety.

Playoff Hockey

I know the NBCSN announcers were saying it most of the night, but it really did feel like a playoff game. Especially after the first period. There was so much intensity to the game. It only ramped up further after Johansen’s elbow on Point. The game also got decidedly more physical from there on out with a lot of hits being thrown around.

The third period in particular had a lot of anxiety and excitement mixed in with both teams getting two power plays each. When the Predators scored on theirs to tie it up, the Nashville faithful got loud. The atmosphere of the game was incredible, though I would have liked to see a little less of the dirty play.

Carter Verhaeghe still can’t buy a goal

I really feel bad for the kid. When you look at his possession stats, he’s got a lot going for him. He’s doing a lot of things right when he’s on the ice. But he still has just one assist on the season. He had another chance to get his first NHL goal when he got in behind the defense on a two-on-one. He had a lot of speed and let the shot fly instead of looking for the pass, which would have been an awkward one to make as a left hander coming down the right wing. The shot got past Rinne... only to hit the outside of the post and stay out.

Big sigh.

Dominating Second Period

Let’s just throw out the five minute major power play and focus on 5v5 play. In the first period, the Lightning were outshot 15-9 by the Predators. They did a pretty decent job of keeping the Predators to the outside for most of the period with only a shot or two from in close until the end of the period. The Predators pushed hard over the last five minutes or so and solidly out possessed the Lightning while finally getting a couple of shots in tight on Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning also caught a lucky break on their goal by Victor Hedman as it deflected off a blocking player’s stick and went in just under the cross bar. If it wasn’t deflected, it’s probably stopped by Rinne’s pad as it wasn’t going very high off the ice.

The second period though was a huge turn around as the Lightning out shot the Predators 22-11. Only two of their shots were blocked all period after having four of their nine blocked in the first period. They also controlled the expected goals percentage at 82.94%. They got into the high danger areas, they shot the puck a lot, they had a great period (other than the five minute power play).

There’s not much to say about the third period though from a 5v5 perspective. Almost half of the period was spent either on the power play or on the penalty kill. Neither team could get any kind of flow going and they tied up the shot attempts at 7-7 in the third. A big difference though was that the Lightning were not nearly as dangerous at 5v5 with the Predators dominating the xGF battle there.

Special Teams

Special teams were certainly a big story of this game. The Lightning ended up being short handed four times and gave up the tying goal in the third period. On the other hand, they were on the power play three times, including the five minute major, and didn’t score any. This is the third time I’ll say it, but the major power play was forgettable, but yet I just can’t forget it as you can see here.

With that said though, the Predators gave the Lightning a big opportunity with just under four minutes left in the third period when Nick Bonino high sticked Steven Stamkos. The Lightning were crisp. They moved the puck. They won board battles. They got their chances.

But Pekka Rinne happened. Rinne has been shaky for much of this season, but he is a veteran goaltender that has been one of the best in the NHL for most of his career. It was just two years ago when he won his first Vezina Trophy at the age of 35 in his fourth time being a Vezina finalist. He was also helped out by some timely shot blocks and the Lightning missing some shots.

If the Lightning played the power play like they did that one every time, they’re probably looking at a 40% success rate, they were that good with the man advantage. There’s still some work to be done though as they need to be able to find consistency. Zone entries in particular have been an issue and remained so tonight.

The one goal that the Lightning gave up on the penalty kill was a little tough. The players on the ice looked like they were getting tired and had an opportunity or two to clear the puck but weren’t able to get it past the Predators’ sticks. It was a terrific tic-tac-toe cross ice pass for the one timer. Vasilevskiy did his best to get over in time and was just a fraction of a second behind the puck.

There wasn’t much more that he could do there, and shouldn’t be blamed for it. After all, we praise Steven Stamkos for scoring those goals all the time. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other guy and say nice shot. Kyle Turris did perhaps have a little bit of luck on his side as he got it just inside the post, but it wasn’t a very high shot. If it had been two or three inches to either side of where he put it, it’s either hitting Vasilevskiy’s pad or hitting the post and staying out. It ended up in just the right place to get by his toe and into the net.