For a moment, it looked like the Tampa Bay Lightning might get run out of Bridgestone Arena.
The Nashville Predators had just scored their third goal to go up 3-1 in the second period. They continued hammering away at the Lightning net, producing a pair of quality chances that just fell by the wayside. The Bolts were hemorrhaging Grade-A scoring opportunities. One more goal probably would have sunk them.
And then, gradually, the Lightning worked their way back in the game, quelling the momentum the Predators had generated in front of their home fans and wrestling it back in their favor. For the final 25 minutes or so of the game, the Lightning controlled play.
Hockey can be funny like that, one minute you're on the verge of getting blown out and the next you're dictating play and rallying.
The Lightning nearly scratched and clawed all the way back from the brink of defeat to salvage a point and maybe even two in Nashville.
In the end, though, it wasn't enough. The Lightning fell 3-2 to the Predators, ending a four-game road swing having gone 2-2-0 on the trip.
"We both scored three. One was called back. Ultimately, that was the difference in the game," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said about his squad's loss in Nashville.
What did Cooper mean by both teams scoring three? And why were the Lightning so poor in some sections of the game while so dominant in others.
We'll attempt to explain in Three Things we learned from a loss in Nashville.
Video: Cooper | Postgame NSH 3, TBL 2
1. A TALE OF TWO HALVES
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game behind a rocket of a shot from defenseman Victor Hedman, who netted his fourth goal of the year and second since coming back from injury on November 10.
From that point forward, however, the Lightning were skating in circles. Nashville outshot Tampa Bay 16-5 over the remainder of the first period and took complete control, hemming the Bolts in their own end and not letting up. The Predators tied the game 1-1 on Kyle Turris' power-play goal late in the first. They continued their dominance in the second period, grabbing the lead for good on Filip Forsberg's world-class shot on a rush from the left circle at 6:43 of the middle frame.
"I didn't even see Forsberg's," Cooper said. "That was in and out. I don't know too many people that are stopping that one."
Nashville went in front by two goals midway through the second on an unreal tip by Ryan Johansen on Craig Smith's shot from the point.
The Predators had opportunities to keep adding to the lead.
But the Lightning survived.
And then they thrived.
"It's a big momentum game, and I don't know, we started being above them and a lot more structured and then the wind changed and went our way," said Lightning goaltender Louis Domingue, who stopped 31-of-34 shots in his fourth-consecutive start. "Since the eight-minute mark in the second period, we took over that game."
For the rest of the contest, it was the Lightning who were relentless on the puck, who wouldn't let the Predators out of their own zone, who were sending wave after wave of scoring chances at Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. The Lightning broke through at the 3:25 mark of the third period, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov working a nifty two-on-one, Point threading a pass to spring Kucherov and the Russian forward making a move at the net and backhanding a shot past an out-of-position Rinne.
The Lightning continued to push. Nashville never really regained the momentum that was squarely on its side following its third goal.
The two-goal deficit proved to be too much for Tampa Bay to overcome however.
"They probably dominated half the game and we dominated half the game," Hedman said. "Score equal amount of goals, just one of ours gets disallowed. Two good teams going at it, high pace all over the ice. Two great goaltenders. It's a fun game to play."
Video: Alex Killorn on the loss to the Predators
2. THE DISALLOWED GOAL
Tampa Bay had a big push at the end of the second period and thought it had been rewarded when Tyler Johnson was able to hit Alex Killorn with a cross-crease pass down low and Killorn one-timed a shot into the open net on the back post.
The referee, however, waived the goal off, instead calling a penalty on Killorn for tripping, a pivotal moment in the game. Hard to say if the outcome would have been any different had the Lightning entered the second intermission trailing by one goal instead of two.
But it certainly would have made the task less daunting.
"It was really unfortunate we had that goal taken back," Cooper said. "It's a little tougher to come back in the third when you're down two instead of one. We did everything we could to win that hockey game, at least tie it up. We just couldn't find a way."
Killorn and Hedman pleaded their case as Killorn was heading to the box. Killorn said after the game he wasn't sure if he was guilty of tripping or not.
"I haven't seen it," he said. "It was one of those things where we were kind of battling for position. I don't know if my stick caught him. I know most of the time their guys go down to try to lay out for those, so I don't know if that's what he was doing or if I tripped him. But I haven't seen it."
Hedman was the most vociferous in his denials but said following the game he understood the call.
"it's a bang-bang play," he said. "If I was on Nashville's team, I would have probably wanted a penalty. That's how it happens sometimes. It's just emotions in the game, frustration sets in. We hemmed them in their own end for quite a while, get a big goal and it gets disallowed, it's tough. That's hockey sometimes. We've been on both sides."
Whether or not the call was justified - the play happened so quickly it was difficult to see live and the replay TV in the Nashville press box is a 19-inch beauty about 10 feet away - the penalty was a critical one in the game.
Video: TBL@NSH: Kucherov beats Rinne with nifty backhand
3. FURIOUS FINISH
The Lightning did everything but tie the game in the final moments.
Trailing 3-2, Brayden Point hit the post with a snipe from the right circle, the puck looking for a split second like it possibly went in. Instead, it caromed harmlessly away from goal.
In the closing minute with the Lightning net empty, Kucherov threaded a heck of a pass across the crease and onto the back post for Tyler Johnson, who pulled his one-timer wide with Rinne out of position. Seconds later, a Lightning shot popped up in the air and over Rinne and had to be saved off the line by a Predators skater, who arrived just in time to keep the puck out.
"To be honest, I thought we would tie that game and win," Domingue said. "It's one of those nights where it just didn't quite bounce for us at the end, a post and then when we pulled the goalie we had a ton of chances we couldn't quite finish. Most of the time we're going to win those games."
The Lightning threw a barrage at the Nashville net over the final seconds. Pekka Rinne was up for the challenge
"We can't spot them two goals and expect to come back every time," Hedman said. "Close again today. Lot of good looks in the third period, one off the post and 6-on-5 Johnny had a great one bounce around. I'm very pleased with the way we came back again, but we don't want to spot the opponent two goals any night."
And that was the difference. Nashville was a little better over its dominant stretch than the Lightning were with theirs.