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Stamkos, Callahan spark Bolts preseason win over Nashville

The pair combine for three points in Tampa Bay's 3-1 win

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning made it two preseason victories in a row after handily defeating the Nashville Predators 3-1 at AMALIE Arena.

The outcome was secondary, however, to the return of Lightning forwards Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan.

Stamkos saw his first game action in over 10 months after his season ended last November following a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Callahan sat the start of the 2016-17 season with a hip injury, got back in for a few games, had to sit out a while again after re-aggravating the hip injury, got in a couple more games before shutting down his season for good in early January.

On Friday, both were back to their former selves with nary a sign they had been gone for so long.

Stamkos created a goal on his first shift, dishing behind his back and across the ice for a wide-open Victor Hedman to one-time from the left circle just 33 seconds into the game. Later in the second period, Callahan drove down the right wing and squeezed a cross-crease pass through a tight window for Yanni Gourde on the back post to set up the Bolts' third goal.

"I thought they did really well," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the game of Stamkos and Callahan. "They had jump in their legs. They weren't fatigued."

All of Tampa Bay can rest easier now knowing Stamkos and Callahan are back and better than ever.

The rest of the NHL is on notice.

More observations from the Lightning's second win of the preseason.

 

- First star: Despite Stamkos' brilliance in his return and Nikita Kucherov following up on his 40-goal season a year ago with a tally in his first preseason game, the star of Friday's victory was unquestionably Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The fourth year pro, who enters this season as the clear No. 1 in net for the first time in his career, looked to be in mid-season form from the opening puck drop. Vasilevskiy denied a couple breakaway opportunities in the first period. On the Predators' first power play, Pontus Aberg looked to have a sure goal as he set up all alone on the back post for a one-timer as the puck came from the opposite side.

Except Vasilevskiy smelled the setup beautifully and slid over gracefully to make an extremely difficult save look rather routine.

Vasilevskiy nearly recorded a shutout, but Nashville's Austin Watson scored with less than six minutes in the game on a shot the Russian had no chance to stop.

Vasilevskiy played all 60 minutes and finished with 29 saves on 30 shots.

"I thought he was sharp," Cooper said. "He was on every puck...There was a bunch, especially early on in that game that could have gone in, and he kind of saved our bacon a little bit. He was tracking pucks. He was seeing through screens. If I was going to take anything aside from the Callahan, Stamkos how well they played and how they looked, it was the way Vasilevskiy played. I thought he was exceptional."

Vasilevskiy played his best last season once he was the unquestioned starter following the trade of Ben Bishop to Los Angeles.

It would appear, at least from the first preseason game, that Vasilevskiy has carried over that starter's mentality into the 2017-18 season.

 

- The first shift: Stamkos took the opening face-off and needed only a couple seconds to make an impact in the game.

After getting the puck from Nikita Kucherov in the right circle, Stamkos took a quick glance toward the middle of the ice before threading a no-look, behind-the-back pass right onto the tape of a charging Victor Hedman.

All Hedman had to do was connect on the one-timer to put the Bolts up 1-0 before the Predators even knew what hit them.

"I knew he knew that I was there. I saw him look at me before he got the puck, so I was trying to stand in there for him," Hedman said, smiling. "…It's good to see him back."

The combination of Stamkos, Kucherov and left wing Brayden Point would be a pleasure to watch all night as the passing between the three made it seem the combination had been playing together for years.

"I thought that line was really good," Cooper said. "They were all kind of feeding off each other."

 

- Stamkos was encouraged by the way his knee reacted during the game and after, saying from what he was expecting, it felt even better.

But let's hear from the captain himself.

"To be honest, coming into camp, I really didn't have any restrictions. Just to finally get bumped or be put in a position where you have to take a hit to make a play where in camp guys aren't going to finish you or bump you in certain areas, little battles, face-offs, you know you've got to get pretty low, a lot of torque on the knees in face-offs and it felt fine tonight so it was all positive," he said following the game." Looking to just build off it and continue to get better."

Was he nervous with it being his first game in almost a year and the thought of his reconstructed knee weighing heavily on his mind?

"You know what? Not really," he answered. "I was surprised that I felt pretty calm and comfortable leading up to this day. I was actually more excited just to go through a game-day routine. I almost forgot all my routines that I have. Once I got to the rink, they come pretty natural. It was nice to just go through a game day. I haven't done it in a long time. Kind of rewarding knowing the hard work you put in, you feel a certain way and you know you're just going to get better, your timing's going to get better, your crispness is going to get better. I was glad with how the first one went."

 

- Moment of the night: Brian Boyle hasn't been a member of the Lightning since he was traded to Toronto on February 27.

But he's not forgotten by Bolts fans.

Not by a long shot.

Earlier this week, Boyle was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, a rare but treatable form of cancer. Boyle's mindset is he'll be ready to play in the New Jersey Devils' season opener on October 7.

He's certainly on the minds of his former teammates in Tampa Bay and the rest of the Lightning community.

During the first break of tonight's game, a tribute video for Boyle was shown on Lightning Vision.

At the end of the video was the message: "You got this Boyler. We're with you all the way!"

Tweet from @BBurnsNHL: https://twitter.com/BBurnsNHL/status/911378092630867968

"If there's anyone who can handle it and find a way to get through that, it's Boyler," Stamkos said after morning skate when asked if he'd been in touch with Boyle since the diagnosis. "We all know what he's meant to our organization, our community. Everyone in (the locker room) wishes him and his family nothing but the best, and I think we're all pretty confident he'll find a way and looking forward to seeing him back on the ice."

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