A three-goal third period for the Nashville Predators rookies led them to a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay in the first of three meetings between the two clubs in this weekend's Rookie Tournament at Ford Ice Center.
Emil Pettersson scored what proved to be the game winner, while Preds goaltenders Matt O'Connor and Jake Paterson combined to make 29 saves on the afternoon.
"We came together pretty quickly, and I thought we executed the system, played with the pace that [the Nashville coaches] are looking for and we ended up getting the win," forward Justin Kirkland said. "I'm super happy because that's definitely a good way to start off the weekend."
The game's first tally came courtesy of Tyler Kelleher, who stick handled in tight and made a nice move to slide the puck past Lightning goaltender Connor Ingram. The 5-foot-6 Kelleher, who signed with the Milwaukee Admirals late in the 2016-17 season after a stellar collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire, is participating in his first NHL rookie camp and said the goal - and a particular teammate - helped to put him at ease.
Video: Tyler Kelleher recaps the Preds' Game 1 victory
"My linemate Justin Kirkland has been here at a few rookie camps, so I always go to him for questions and he helped calmed my nerves a bit," Kelleher said. "That definitely helped, and it was nice to get a win out there."
Tampa Bay evened the score at 1-1 before the first period was out with a goal from Mikhail Sergachev, and then Alexey Lipanov gave the Lightning a 2-1 advantage after two.
But Preds rookie team captain Alexandre Carrier tied the game at 2-2 in the third period when he snuck one in from down low, and then Pettersson pounced on a loose rebound in front of the net to give Nashville their second and final lead. Pettersson finished off the day when he tallied his second into an empty cage to give the Preds a 4-2 victory.
Video: Justin Kirkland recaps the Preds comeback win
"I think the biggest thing is we kind of got more familiar with each other as the game went on," Kirkland said. "This is our first time really playing together, so we built a little bit of chemistry and hopefully we can carry that into tomorrow."
Carrier is serving as captain of the Preds rookies during the tournament, while Kirkland, Jack Dougherty and Anthony Richard sported A's on their jerseys.
The Predators and Lightning rookies will play the second contest of their three-game tournament on Sunday afternoon with a noon CT start at Ford Ice Center before wrapping things up on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.