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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a first preseason win

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 3-1 preseason victory over the Predators on Friday

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning put together their best period of the preseason in the third period of Friday's matchup against the Nashville Predators at AMALIE Arena.

The 20 minutes of domination was enough to push the Lightning to a 3-1 victory over the Predators for their first win of the preseason.

Alexander Volkov tied the game 1-1 midway through the final frame with a wrist shot from the top of the slot with four seconds remaining on a power play. Reigning National Hockey League most valuable player Nikita Kucherov netted the go-ahead goal with :39 seconds left in regulation using a silky-smooth move to lift a shot over the glove of Nashville netminder Juuse Saros.

Kucherov added an empty-net goal :23 seconds later for the 3-1 final.

How were the Bolts able to turn the game around in the third?

Three things that led to preseason win No. 1.

Video: Kucherov goes top shelf

Through two periods of Friday's game, the Lightning offense continued to sputter.

Saros was part of the reason. The Preds goalie made several nice stops to keep the Lightning off the scoreboard, but the Bolts weren't helping themselves either. Penalties once again disrupted the attack early. The Lightning committed three minor infractions in the opening period, Nashville scoring it's lone goal on one of the subsequent power plays, Calle Jarnkrok finding himself all alone on the back post for a one-timer Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney (31 saves on 32 shots in 60 minutes) could do nothing about.

But the Lightning weren't getting into those dangerous scoring areas either. Most of their shots were coming from the perimeter or, more often, they were passing up decent chances looking for a better one and coming away with nothing.

In the third, however, the Lightning started getting in those dangerous areas and testing Saros. Tyler Johnson had a couple opportunities in the slot with a one-timer that Saros handled. Carter Verhaeghe found himself sniffing around the net too.

Finally, as a power play was expiring, the Bolts second PP unit broke the drought. Verhaeghe held up a puck along the wall, allowing Volkov to get free in the slot. Volkov took Verhaeghe's pass and laced a shot through a hole in Saros' wall to get the Bolts on the board.

"When you score a goal, it's like, 'finally,'" Volkov said.

From there, the Lightning offense was back to its regular self

"It took us eight-and-a-half periods to get one and then it didn't take us too much longer to get the next one," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

In the final minute, the reunited Triplets line struck for the game winner. Ondrej Palat entered the zone with the puck along the right wall. Johnson drove toward the goal line, taking a Predators defender with him and opening up a path to goal for Kucherov. With a clear look at the net, Kucherov made it look easy, flicking his wrists with the puck to beat Saros high.

"Pretty nice goal on the second," Jimmy Huntington said, smiling.

The key for the Lightning now is consistency. The offense hit its stride late against the Predators Friday. That attack-the-net mentality needs to carry over Saturday when the Bolts complete the home-and-home set in Nashville (8 p.m. Eastern puck drop).

 Video: Cooper on Bolts first win

The Lightning power play hasn't had much of an opportunity to showcase its skill this preseason because the Lightning haven't been drawing many penalties, just committing them.

The Bolts, however, earned the final two power plays in the victory over Nashville.

The first didn't result in a goal, but it produced a number of good scoring chances and it got the Lightning offense moving in the right direction. And it also provided an unusual scene, the Bolts going with a three forward, two defensemen look with Jan Rutta as the extra defensemen and Rutta firing multiple one-timers from Steven Stamkos' office in the left circle.

"He was hammering them there," Verhaeghe said. "I thought one was going to go in. Maybe next game."

The second power play provided the goal that gave the Lightning new life and spurred them to victory.

"We got better after (our first goal)," Volkov said.

Tampa Bay owned the top power play in the league last season after connecting on 28.2 percent of its opportunities.

When given the chance Friday, the power play proved once again it can be a difference maker.

Video: Volkov finds the back of the net 

Cooper said it was fitting Volkov and Verhaeghe were the duo that ended up combining for Tampa Bay's first goal Friday night. Their line along with centerman Cedric Paquette was the best for the Lightning for large stretches of the game, or until the Triplets line connected in the final minute to provide the go-ahead and insurance markers.

"I think it was probably a little deserving those guys end up scoring in the end," Cooper said. "I know it was on the power play, but they just had a solid game."

Volkov came into the Nashville game with a shoot-first mentality after passing up good scoring chances in his first preseason game Wednesday at Carolina.

"He shot it tonight, and that's what happens when you shoot it," Cooper said. "Good play by him."

Verhaeghe showed his skill on the puck throughout the Nashville game but was snakebit a few times as good scoring chances evaporated through bad luck.

"Verhaeghe had a bunch that slipped off his stick," Cooper said. "He was making the right plays and it either rolled off or what have you. He possessed the puck. He made plays on the wall, middle of the ice. He was responsible. It was just a lot of good to his game."

For a pair of guys trying to earn a roster spot and potentially a place in the starting lineup on the fourth line, combining well with Paquette, who will like center the Lightning fourth line when the regular season opens, can only improve each's chances of making the team.

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