The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Nashville Predators 3-2 in the first-ever outdoor game for the Lightning and the first-ever hosted outdoor game for Nashville. The Lightning, denim outfits, cowboy boots, and straw hats walked into Nissan Stadium, ready to embrace their first-ever outdoor game. The atmosphere was electric, even from the television screen, and the sheer amount of Lightning fans who made the trek to Nashville was in full view as the two teams squared off Saturday night. Some luster has worn off for the NHL's outdoor games, but the in-person experience still looks to be one of the best events the league hosts every year. Now, the Lightning, a franchise that has been elite for nearly a decade (and the current back-to-back champions), finally gets their ever-elusive outdoor game.
The early goings saw Tampa Bay and Nashville try to establish the tone. Hard hits, active sticks, and an unwillingness to back down were the hallmarks of the opening period. It led to an early power-play for the Lightning after Ryan Johansen delivered an illegal hit to the head on Erik Cernak. However, Tampa Bay wasted their man advantage with poor puck management and decision-making.
Neither team did much to fully tilt the ice in their favor, but both had spurts of control that saw both goaltenders make some impressive saves. However, Nashville struck first as Tanner Jeannot continued his excellent rookie season by capitalizing on a loose puck after the Lightning committed an atrocious turnover in their end.
Tampa Bay went on the penalty kill after Mathieu Joseph was called for a high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone, and, up until the goal, the Lightning penalty kill had done a commendable job neutralizing Nashville's special teams unit. Unfortunately, one bad play threw all of that work away. One of the Lightning's most dependable penalty killers, Anthony Cirelli, gifted Nashville this opportunity, and Jan Rutta failed to box out Jeannot in front of the net. There's little else to say on this goal; Tampa Bay did it to themselves.
Shortly after the goal, there was an old-fashioned tussle between Pat Maroon and Michael McCarron. The fight was rather dull, with neither fighter doing much aside from McCarron knocking Maroon's helmet off. The edge was to McCarron, but this fight did little to affect the period.
The remainder of the period saw varying degrees of back and forth play, with neither team applying consistent pressure on the netminders. After their power-play goal, Nashville's offensive structure did little against Tampa Bay's defense. The Lightning offense struggled to transition the puck through the neutral zone and generate pressure in the slot due to the Predators' defense remaining disciplined.
As the period entered in closing seconds, Nashville's aggressiveness led to another penalty, this time on Matt Benning for interfering with Alex Killorn. Tampa Bay managed to get one dangerous shot by Brayden Point on net before the period expired.
The Lightning wasted little time dictating how this period would go as they came out flying to start the second period. Nashville's stalwart defense was tested as Tampa Bay did not take their foot off the gas and forced the Predators to keep up. Tampa Bay's abbreviated power-play to start the period needed little time to tie the game as Brayden Point scored the first outdoor goal in Lightning history.
Two amazing things on this goal: first, Nikita Kucherov remains the best playmaker on the planet with his passing capability. Second, Brayden Point scoring while the puck was in mid-air is still wild to see. It was entirely on accident since Mikael Granlund disrupted the first shot attempt, but that doesn't diminish the ridiculousness of this goal by Point.
Nashville tried to push back with their trademark aggressiveness, but the Lightning didn't back down. Johansen answered the bell after Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare challenged him to a fight. Johansen won the scrap, and many Nashville players tried to let Tampa Bay know about it. Their jubilation didn't last as Jeannot took a hilariously bad high sticking penalty on the ensuing faceoff, followed by the Lightning reminding Nashville what happens when you give a team as talented as Tampa Bay too many power-plays.
Imagine how much more dominant this team would be if Kucherov hadn't missed as much time as he did due to injury. The moving screen by Alex Killorn is all Kucherov needs to beat Saros on the short side to give the Lightning the 2-1 lead.
Again, the Predators tried to intimidate the Lightning by crashing the net, but it did little to shake the two-time champions. A solid penalty kill after Ryan McDonagh was called for roughing shifted much of the tone of the period. After Nashville failed on their second power-play, the Lightning dictated large portions of the period. The Predators struggled to exit their zone cleanly, and it led to a myriad of desperation plays that did little to negate Tampa Bay's pressure. The Lightning earned a late period power-play after the fourth line ground Nashville relentlessly for what felt like an eternity. The Lightning managed to get a few good looks on Saros before the period expired but still held over some power-play time entering the third.
Tampa Bay failed to score on their abbreviate power-play to start the final period. Nashville took a page out of Tampa Bay's book and relentlessly attacked to try and find an equalizer. Their aggression caused the Lightning to falter in puck management and decision-making as poor clearing attempts, and turnovers provided Nashville plenty of opportunities. Tampa Bay weathered this pressure and managed to push back as the period's midway point came but were put back on the defensive as Bellemare was called for interference.
Another penalty kill saw the best chance go to the Lightning as Joseph just missed on a shorthanded breakaway. Shortly after this kill, Tampa Bay returned to their dominating ways as they pinned Nashville in their defensive zone and extended their lead with Steven Stamkos's 25th of the season.
This goal is 100% due to Cal Foote making two great plays. First, he expertly keeps the puck in the offensive zone by knocking it down mid-air and pushing playback below the goal line. Second, he fools the entire Nashville defense with his eyes before threading a perfect pass to a wide-open Stamkos. It hasn't been an easy transition for Foote since becoming a full-time NHLer last year, but he has grown tremendously (which is something Tampa Bay needs moving forward).
Nashville refused to back down, though. Hosting their first outdoor game and making sure their fanbase was treated to a good show, they pushed right back after Stamkos's goal. They drew a penalty on Victor Hedman and immediately made the Lightning pay by scoring within the first seven seconds of their man advantage.
That pretty much sums up Nashville's goal here. Sometimes you get beat by good plays and fortunate bounces. A deflected puck goes right toward Granlund, who feeds a beautiful pass to Filip Forsberg, who buries it past Vasilevskiy to give Nashville some hope in the waning minutes of regulation.
That hope went into overdrive as the Predators repeatedly pushed for the tying goal. Yet, time and time again, Tampa Bay managed to weather the storm and close out their first outdoor game with a victory.
More than anything, Tampa Bay was lifted by their best players this evening. On a national stage, in one of the most televised events of the season, it was Point, Kucherov, and Stamkos, all scoring crucial goals. Meanwhile, Vasilevskiy blanked the Predators at even strength, and it could be argued he had no chance on either of the power-play goals that Nashville scored. This was a solid win for the Lightning; it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't easy, but they met, and surpassed, Nashville at every juncture and secured another two points toward the playoffs.