As I wrote in this space following Tuesday’s game, a 4-3 Lightning triumph over the Florida Panthers, sometimes a team plays well enough to win – and doesn’t. That’s what happened to the Lightning in this game against the Nashville Predators. The Preds were able to cash in on three of their scoring chances. As they usually do, they defended well when they didn’t have the puck. And, as is typically the case, they received a terrific performance from goalie Pekka Rinne. But for most of the game, the Lightning carried play. They limited Nashville’s looks, did a good job of managing the puck through the neutral zone (which led to lot of offensive zone time), and generated more Grade-A scoring chances than Nashville. But after falling behind by a couple of goals early on, they simply couldn’t battle back to tie the game.
The Bolts outshot the Predators, 12-4, in the first period, but trailed after 20 minutes. Nashville scored on two of its first three shots. Following a Lightning d-zone turnover, the Preds kept the puck in the zone and a Roman Josi left point shot deflected off Mike Ribeiro’s stick past Ben Bishop at 3:28. Less than a minute later, Taylor Beck forced a turnover in the neutral zone and countered off the rush. Bishop stopped Beck’s right circle shot, but Paul Gaustad crashed the net and batted in the rebound. Other than a Craig Smith attempt that hit off the crossbar as a Nashville power play ended, the Preds didn’t generate any other first period looks. The Lightning, on the other hand, had the puck most of the period and forced Rinne to make several tough saves. He stopped the first 11, but was beaten on the 12th. In the final minute of the frame, Vladdy Namestnikov rushed the puck past Cody Franson down the left wing, skated behind the net and banked a wraparound shot off Rinne and in.
Early in the second, Jonathan Drouin rang a shot off the post and the Preds held onto their one-goal lead. Moments later, Tyler Johnson was whistled for a four-minute high sticking infraction. The Lightning’s penalty kill did a terrific job killing off both ends of the double minor. It appeared that the Lightning would gain momentum from their successful kills, but on the shift after the penalty ended, Mike Santorelli walked out from behind the Lightning net and put two quick shots on net. The second slipped past Bishop for a 3-1 Nashville lead at 6:47. The Lightning answered with a Brian Boyle goal at 13:19 to cut the deficit back to one goal. Throughout the period, they had other opportunities to score, but didn’t. The best of those chances came during a four-on-four, when Rinne made a terrific point blank stop on Ryan Callahan. (This was before the Boyle goal). Then there were the three failed Lightning power play chances in the second. Credit Nashville’s penalty kill. But also, the Lightning were guilty of attempting too many cross-ice passes – passes that were intercepted and cleared or deflected out of the zone. For the second straight game, the Bolts trailed, 3-2, after two.
Early in the third, the Lightning had two glorious scoring chances. On a two-on-one, Johnson set up Ondrej Palat for a point-blank chance, but Palat missed the net. Shortly thereafter, Alex Killorn got loose in front for another Grade-A, but Rinne made the save. Despite having nearly all of the puck possession in the period, the Lightning couldn’t tie the score. The Predators defended well in front Rinne, blocking several shot attempts. Rinne made 11 third period saves, including stops on the early chance for Killorn and on a Steven Stamkos shot in the closing minute. Unlike Tuesday’s game, the Lightning weren’t able to rally for a third period comeback win. Despite doing a number of good things in this game – puck possession dominance, limiting opposition chances, outstanding penalty kill – the Lightning weren’t able to win it. Nashville was effective in making the Lightning pay for isolated mistakes and Rinne was sharp in making 28 saves.
The Lightning finished their six-game homestand with a 4-2 record. They’ll begin a five-game road trip Saturday afternoon in Detroit needing just two points to clinch a playoff berth.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Rinne’s key saves throughout the game.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Pekka Rinne – Predators. 28 saves.
2.Brian Boyle – Lightning. Goal.
3.Roman Josi – Predators. Assist.