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Mishkin's Extra Shift: Bolts continue to bank road points during tough February stretch

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning

This was a contest between two of the leading point teams in the NHL and it lived up to billing. This game featured terrific goaltending, was hard-fought and closely contested. Players on both teams did well to finish their checks and take away time and space. From the Lightning’s perspective, it was a well-earned road point. They rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period in one of the toughest NHL buildings against one of the league’s best goalies.

In the first period, the Predators, despite being outshot 10-8, had the better scoring chances. Early in the frame, Craig Smith got loose twice for in-alone chances on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped both. Then Vasilevskiy made one of the best saves this season in the NHL. After Smith took a shot from the left circle, the rebound came right in front to Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro seemed to have an open net and he swept the shot back toward the goal. But Vasilevskiy snapped out his left leg and deflected the puck away with the end of his skate.

The Predators had fewer dangerous chances in the second than the first, but were able to cash in on two of them. They grabbed the lead when quick puck movement in the offensive zone allowed defenseman Seth Jones to walk uncontested from the right point to the right circle. He ripped a shot just inside the post past Vasilevskiy’s stick. Later, the Lightning missed coverage on a three-on-three rush. Following a Paul Gaustad left point shot, Taylor Beck was left undefended in front and he knocked in the rebound to extend the Nashville lead.

The Lightning had chances of their own in the second, but couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne. When the game was still scoreless, he made a terrific left pad save on Tyler Johnson at the side of the net. He then stopped a close range shot from Nikita Kucherov on the shift after the Jones goal. Rinne was helped by his teammates, too. The Preds defended well – with their positioning, they were able to slow up (or break up) Lightning rushes through the neutral zone. And in the Nashville d-zone, the Predators were quick to get sticks on pucks, often preventing the Bolts from getting pucks on Rinne.

But the Bolts battled back in the third. Jon Cooper mixed up his lines for the period – and shortened his bench to three lines. Brett Connolly joined Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle on a line – and that unit got the Bolts on the board at 1:20 of the third. The play started with a good keep by Mark Barberio at the left point, knocking down an attempted Nashville clear. His keep led to chaos for the Preds in the d-zone. The puck went off Roman Josi’s stick to Filppula, who was open in the slot. He roofed a backhander that hit the post and ricocheted to Connolly, who finished into the top of the net.

The Lightning tied it six and half minutes later on a play that started similarly – with a good keep at the point. This time, Andrej Sustr intercepted a clearing attempt at the right point and passed to Johnson in the right corner. Johnson fed Palat at the right circle, who hurried the puck in front to Kucherov. Kucherov swatted the puck on his backhand and it flipped in the air across his body. Rinne went down, anticipating the initial backhand shot. So when Kucherov batted the puck out of the air on his forehand, he put it over Rinne and into the net.

The final 12 minutes were back and forth, as both teams enjoyed zone time in the offensive end. The Lightning had the better chances, including a point blank redirection from Ryan Callahan that Rinne stopped. The Bolts also couldn’t convert on a late third period power play, though they did well to apply pressure in the second half of the man advantage. Then after the penalty expired, they kept the puck in the offensive zone for much of regulation’s final minute.

In overtime, again the Lightning carried play early. They put four shots on Rinne – the best of those was a Filppula deflection in front. But in the last minute of OT, the Bolts surrendered a two-on-one. Vasilevskiy stopped the shot from Jones and the Lightning cleared the rebound. But the Preds took it back at center ice and reversed – James Neal was able to score from the left circle to win it.

It’s always disappointing to lose. But there was a silver lining. Down by two goals entering the third, the Lightning rallied on the road against one of the league’s top goalies and a very good club that was playing an excellent defensive game through two periods. In three tough road games so far this month, the Lightning now have banked four points.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:

Connolly’s goal, which cut the deficit to one and started the third period comeback.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:

1.Pekka Rinne – Predators. 30 saves.

2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Highlight-reel goal.

3.Brett Connolly – Lightning. Goal.

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