Before getting into the particulars of this game, let’s start with the big picture takeaway. This was a huge win for the Lightning. Two straight regulation losses prior to this contest had dropped the Bolts into a wildcard spot. They were in jeopardy, with a third consecutive regulation loss, of potentially falling below the playoff cut line before taking the ice on Sunday for their next game against St. Louis. They were less than half a minute away from such an outcome, before Steven Stamkos tied the game with a sixth attacker power play goal. And, if not for the Stamkos goal, it would have been a game they lost after surrendering a 2-1 third period lead.
So, understanding that the coaches and players will dissect this game on video and look to shore up some leaky areas before Sunday, the most important storyline from tonight was the win. The victory ended the Lightning’s losing streak and allowed them to gain two points on Florida and Montreal, which both lost, as well as idle Boston. They picked up one point on Detroit, which lost in a shootout. And the Lightning, at least for one night, moved out of the wildcard spot.
Ok, now to the game itself. It was a contest filled with ebbs and flows. At times, the Lightning carried play. At other points, the Predators dictated the action. Both teams rallied from one-goal deficits to take the lead – the Lightning actually did it twice.
Some of the Lightning’s defensive miscues that were evident during the Ottawa-Montreal road trip cropped up in this game. At different points, the Lightning’s puck management was sloppy, especially when they were attempting to come out of the defensive zone. They did turn a number of pucks over and they had some coverage issues during the course of the game.
But there were other times when the Lightning looked crisp, especially after they tied the game at one in the second period. That rebound goal for J.T. Brown sparked the Bolts, who decisively carried play for the next several minutes. The Lightning finished the second period with 13 shots and took the lead when Nikita Kucherov tucked in the rebound of his own initial breakaway shot.
But just as the Brown goal gave the Lightning a boost in the second period, the Predators grabbed momentum in the third after James Neal tied the score with a breakaway goal of his own. Then, after Filip Forsberg gave the Preds a 3-2 lead with 12:14 left, the Lightning looked flat. They had a hard time generating speed through the neutral zone (in large part because of how well the Predators were defending) and had trouble even getting just one shot on Pekka Rinne. In fact, the Lightning didn’t even record a shot on goal until the period was over 11 minutes old.
It can be hard to regain momentum when you don’t have it. But the Lightning caught a break when Viktor Arvidsson took a slashing penalty with just over two minutes left. They would capitalize. Moments before he scored the tying goal, Stamkos had two other shot attempts. One clanged off the crossbar and Rinne stopped the other. But the third time was the charm – with just under 27 seconds left in the game, Stamkos ripped a one-timer past Rinne’s glove as Ondrej Palat provided a screen in front. Just as important as the shot itself was the Valtteri Filppula offensive zone faceoff win that preceded it. If the Lightning had lost the faceoff and Nashville had cleared the zone, the Lightning might have run out of time.
Instead, though, they did tie it and then, just over a minute into overtime, Tyler Johnson won it. Interestingly, Johnson was out on the ice for the entire overtime. After Nashville started OT with puck possession, Johnson eventually retrieved the puck behind his own net. Stamkos and Victor Hedman both came off the Lightning bench for a new shift and it seemed as though Johnson would get off the ice after passing to Stamkos. But Johnson didn’t go to the bench. He skated up the right wing, blowing past Forsberg, who had just come on the ice himself. Johnson, despite being at the end of a shift, had enough left in his legs to outrace Forsberg, take the puck to the front of the net and snap it through Rinne’s pads.
The Lightning’s home winning streak has reached nine games, one shy of the franchise record set last year. But overall, despite getting some key plays at critical times, they weren’t as crisp as they have been during the other games of the streak. And if they want to tie the franchise record with a win Sunday over St. Louis, they’ll likely need to produce a much cleaner performance.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Stamkos’ tying PPG.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. GWG in OT.
2.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. PPG and assist. Tied game late in third.
3.Roman Josi – Predators. Two assists.