The Tampa Bay Lightning’s quest to sweep the Nashville Predators came to an end on Monday. Prior to the matinee game, the Lightning was 5-0 against the Predators. After today’s 4-1 loss, the Lightning remained undefeated against one divisional opponent—Dallas. Eeli Tolvanen, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, and Mattias Ekholm scored for Nashville. Steven Stamkos was the lone goal scorer for Tampa Bay. Pekka Rinne looked like the Vezina version of himself with an outstanding 38-save performance. Curtis McElhinney stopped 22 of 25 shots, and even though he wasn’t at his sharpest he still provided more than enough goaltending for Tampa Bay to crawl back into the game.
Let’s get into it.
Physicality and non-stop aggression were Nashville’s mantra to open the game, and it successfully put the Lightning on their heels. Usually, it’s Tampa Bay keeping opponents from generating offense consistently, but it took the Lightning eight minutes to register a shot on goal. Luckily, Curtis McElhinney’s sharp play kept Nashville off the scoreboard.
During this stretch, Tampa Bay saw Pat Maroon drop the gloves against Ben Harpur to settle the tone down, and kill off a holding penalty to Erik Cernak at 3:51. It looked as though Nashville’s attack would pin the Lightning all period, but all it took was one shift from the defending Stanley Cup champs to reassert their dominance.
After a lackluster power-play failed to generate much of anything, the Lightning went to work cycling the puck and forced Nashville into uncomfortable situations. Spearheaded at both ends of the ice by Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay completely tilted the ice in their favor for the back half of the period. Prior to this, Nashville controlled 72% of the shot attempts and generated an xGF of 76%.
After Tampa Bay’s onslaught to close out the final 6 minutes of the period?
The Lightning controlled 62% of the shot attempts at 5v5, led 9-5 in scoring chances, led 3-2 in high danger scoring chances, and wrung back control of the quality battle at 58% xGF%.
The highlight of the period came in the dying minutes as Hedman deked past Rinne for a scoring chance, but was ultimately thwarted by the smart stick play of Dante Fabbro at the last second.
Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to a great play.
Tampa Bay found themselves in a favorable position to start the second as Colton Sissons was penalized for hooking just 22 seconds into the period. However, the normally porous Nashville penalty kill looked like a top-five unit as they negated every Lightning entry attempt. Tampa Bay’s normal route of entering with multiple layers of skaters was thwarted time and time again as Nashville focused on picking passes off or squeezing Lightning skaters into the boards and clearing out of the puck scrum.
Shortly after the power-play expired, Nashville capitalized on their first consistent pressure of the period.
This is a beautiful shot by Tolvanen. Hard to blame McElhinney on this one. The rookie picks his shot and snipes it home for his sixth of the season.
Tampa Bay resumed dictating most of the pace after falling behind by one, but the Predators still managed to create some pressure of their own. Unfortunately, a holding call on Yanni Gourde sent Tampa Bay the penalty kill where Nashville displayed some impressive puck movement and control en route to their second goal of the period.
Nashville took full control of the pace at 5v5 after this goal as they repeatedly pinned the Lightning in the defensive zone. However, there was a sliver of hope for the Lightning as a too many men call on the Predators at 11:03 provided a reprieve.
Or, so we thought.
You have to give it to Nashville this period. Scoring a goal at 5v5, on the power-play, and while shorthanded is no easy feat. They capitalized on Tampa Bay’s mistakes (which were often forced by Nashville) when they were supposed to.
The Lightning went into desperation mode as the period waned and generated a plethora of scoring chances, but no matter what they did Rinne thwarted every single chance. A 2-on-1 chance with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point? Stopped. Yanni Gourde in close? Stopped. Hedman from the point on numerous occasions? Stopped. Rinne was in a world all his own this period and Tampa Bay was his victim.
The numbers will show a “dominant” period from the Lightning, but controlling 60% of the shot attempts in all situations and generating an xGF% of 65% mean little when your team gives us three goals in a span of eleven minutes.
If Tampa wanted to have any chance of coming back in this game, they had to first iron out their zone entries, followed by taking away Rinne’s eyes and lastly limited their turnovers.
If there is one thing no can claim about this Lightning team, it’s that they don’t quit. From the start of the third until the final buzzer rang, they threw everything they could at Rinne and the Predators. It ended up not being enough, but the mentality and process they brought into the third is what propelled them to a championship last season.
Some games, things just don’t go your way and tonight was one of those. Yes, there were self-inflicted wounds, but by and large, the Lightning cleaned up most of the issues that plagued them in the early part of this game. It just wasn’t enough to climb out of a three-goal hole.
Pat Maroon did his job by sparking some life into Tampa Bay with his second fight of the game at puck drop, and Steven Stamkos managed to ruin Rinne’s shutout bid, but aside from that, there was nothing but chances and frustration on the side of the Lightning.
For all the talk of his demise and inability to stay healthy, Steven Stamkos continues to be a phenomenal player for this franchise and the league. His number is going up in the rafters one day, no doubt about it.
Jon Cooper attempted the early pull once again with roughly 3-4 minutes left in regulation, but it didn’t manifest in a false hope goal as it did in Detroit last week. Tampa Bay also made life difficult for Nashville to score an empty-net goal, but eventually, the Predators found a way.
Not the best way to have a matinee game, but you win some, you lose some.
Post Game Thoughts
The schedule for Tampa Bay is just brutal coming up. Including today the Lightning will play 11 games in 20 days with only one two-day break in between. That’s a lot of high-level hockey with not a lot of recovery time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lightning drops a few games they normally wouldn’t due to fatigue. Then again, these are professional athletes who repeatedly push the bounds of their bodies, so, who knows.
Regardless, today was an off-game for the reigning champs, but time and time again they’ve shown they can bounce back.
On to Dallas.