Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were riding a two-game losing streak. The big question entering this game was if the Lightning could get past a Predators team that has had their number over the past few years. Behind a four-goal outburst in the second period the Lightning managed to get back into the win column with a 4-3 victory over the Predators.
The schedule delays haven’t been kind to the Lightning, breaking up any semblance of routine for the coaching staff and players. Still, sitting at 4-1-1 isn’t a bad spot to be in given the circumstances. Now to see if the Lightning can have a sense of normality in their schedule so they aren’t going long stretches of time without playing.
Tampa Bay squeaked by Nashville after an explosive second period buoyed them against the Predators’ furious comeback in the third period. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but they all count the same.
Obviously annoyed by their slow start against Carolina on Thursday, the game opened with an aggressive approach from the Lightning. Their forechecking pressure was readily apparent and manifested itself in some good chances early on. Unfortunately, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had an answer every time Tampa Bay thought they had a good scoring chance. There were chances by Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, and Steven Stamkos that Rinne shut down.
The Lightning’s pressure did result in a power-play near the halfway point of the period, but they failed to convert as Rinne, yet again, stood tall behind a Predators' penalty kill that looked lost. There was a Stamkos one-timer and an in-close redirect by Palat that Rinne thwarted.
It was all Tampa Bay until their first penalty, a slashing call on Stamkos at 11:01. The shots were 8-0 for the Lightning at this time. The penalty was a questionable call in retrospect (something that will become a recurring event this period), but by the rule book, the play was slashing. Not to be outdone, Anthony Cirelli was called for another slashing penalty 1:15 later. Luckily, Tampa Bay killed off both of these penalties, but Nashville had found some momentum off the failed power-plays.
Nashville started to push play back into Tampa Bay’s offensive zone when another questionable call went against the Lightning. This time an interference call on Ryan McDonagh on a play that we see in every defensive zone by every defensemen in the league. Tampa Bay’s confusion and frustration led to some sloppy defensive coverage on the ensuing penalty kill where Ryan Ellis opened the scoring for the evening.
The Lightning pushed back in the waning seconds and drew a roughing call on Dante Fabbro after it appeared he punched Stamkos in the back of the head. Tampa Bay failed to convert as the period expired, but would enter the second on the man advantage.
Tampa Bay’s first power-play of the second period looked a bit disjointed at times, but their second one (off a Mark Borowiecki hooking call) saw Tampa By score their first goal at any strength in over 120 minutes.
After all the trade rumors, waiver placement, and uncertainty it must’ve felt good for Tyler Johnson to score his first of the season. I know some are hoping for a bounce-back season from the long time Lightning favorite, so, let’s hope this is the start of seeing him return to form.
The floodgates opened after Johnson’s goal. Momentum shifted, and the Lightning were ready to take advantage of it.
The first player to capitalize? Rookie Cal Foote.
He looked awfully Stamkos-esqe with that howitzer from the left faceoff circle. Congrats to Foote on his first career NHL goal!
Less than two minutes later, the reigning Conn Smythe winner reminded everyone why he’s the best defensemen in the world.
Tampa Bay’s pressure eased up slightly after going up two goals, and Nashville managed to push back as they maintained some offensive pressure, but Vasilevskiy held his ground during that span of play.
Nashville’s frustration crept up as Mikael Granlund took an interference penalty at 17:47. Tampa Bay wasted little time (20 seconds to be exact) as the captain tied Martin St. Louis for the most power-play points in Lightning history with his 300th power-play point.
Steven Stamkos and one-timer goals will never go out of style.
The remainder of the period saw a fight break out between Borowiecki and Pat Maroon, and Tampa Bay continuing to dictate everything on the ice. They also managed to draw another penalty in the final minute of the period as Matt Benning was called for roughing at 19:20.
This was arguably Tampa Bay’s strongest period of the season, production-wise, but from a process perspective, it was merely, okay-ish. They controlled the shot attempts at 5v5, 57%, but they did not win the quality battle, 41%. It was clear Tampa Bay was better from the eye test, but Nashville did get some quality looks at Vasilevskiy during the period.
The third started the same way the second did, on the man-advantage. Unlike the second, Tampa did not convert on the opportunity, but they still generated some solid looks off of it. As the first half of the third continued, Tampa Bay didn’t have the same pressure they did earlier in the game. They had control, but weren’t generating a whole lot with it.
Then, right when their cycle game got going Barclay Goodrow was called for high sticking at 5:11. Nashville made them pay for it 36 seconds later.
The frustrating part about this goal stems from how good the penalty kill had been prior to the goal. Cirelli set up Alex Killorn for a short-handed chance, Blake Coleman had one as well, and Hedman kept play moving toward Nashville’s end of the ice. Unfortunately, Nashville managed to cut through the Lightning defense on an entry and capitalized on a rebound.
Momentum started to shift in Nashville’s favor after Mathieu Olivier’s goal. Tampa Bay started to push back to try and stem it, and eventually, emotions ran high; culminating in the second fight of the game as Fabbro and Gourde dropped the gloves at 11:19.
The nastiness picked up on the back half of the period. Highlighted by a scrum started by Olivier which ended up leaving him bloodied after getting swarmed for attacking Foote. Tampa ended up on a power-play but they were unable to capitalize even after generating more than a few good looks on Rinne. Of note, Stamkos had two blasts that rang off the post. The penalty ended with yet another scrum centered around Maroon and Borowiecki.
Surprisingly, the remaining four minutes appeared rather civil at least compared to the previous ten minutes. Nashville focused on trying to crawl back into the game, but Tampa Bay did an effective job limiting their offensive chances.
That was until Nashville pulled Rinne for an extra attacker.
Winning puck battles and making the best of an opportunity is what gave Nashville this goal. Oh, and a heck of a shot by Viktor Arvidsson.
The remaining time in regulation was a sustained heart attack for Tampa Bay as Nashville’s desperation threatened to produce a goal on multiple occasions. Somehow, the puck stayed out, but that’s how the game goes sometimes.
A win is a win and the Lightning managed to hang on to snap their losing streak, but it was obvious they weren’t ready for Nashville’s desperation in the third and it led to more than a few harrowing moments.
Add in the nastiness that surfaced as the game progressed and Monday night’s game is going to be must-watch television.