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Quick Start Helps Preds to 100 Points, Win Over Lightning

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators hit the 100-point mark for the fifth time in franchise history and came away with a 3-2 win on the road over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

A fast, yet fortunate start helped the Preds to their third-straight win and back into the Central Division lead. Mike Ribeiro and Paul Gaustad scored just 40 seconds apart on the Predators first and third shots of the game to give Nashville a 2-0 lead.

Ribeiro deflected the Preds first shot on goal for his 14th of the season at 3:28, and less than a minute later, Gaustad had Nashville up by two. Quite the start for the Preds against the NHL’s top team at home.

“We got a couple of good bounces for us tonight and that worked in our favor,” Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “ We know we can be better, but it was a good road win. It’s not easy coming down here into this building and walking away with a win. At the end of the night, that’s a W in the column. Our guys did enough to get it done.”

Roughly 14 minutes later, Vladislav Namestnikov beat Pekka Rinne on a wraparound to pull the Lightning within a goal in the final minute of the first period.

In the middle frame, Mike Santorelli’s first in Preds Gold since being traded to Nashville last month once again put the visitors ahead by two.

Brian Boyle pulled Tampa Bay back to within one before the second stanza was out, beating Rinne at the 13:19 mark, but the Nashville goaltender turned aside all 11 shots he faced in the final frame to earn his 40th victory of the campaign.

“It wasn’t our best effort, that’s no secret, but anytime you come into this building against a good opponent and get two points, that’s a great sign,” forward Mike Fisher said.

“That’s a big win,” forward Taylor Beck said. “Three in a row is great, especially after that streak a few weeks ago. To put three wins in a row together is huge and hopefully we can keep building on that. We’re playing good hockey for the most part, but we’ve just got to touch a few things up.”

Two in 40:

Nashville certainly set the tone early in their matchup with Tampa Bay. The Preds struck twice for two goals 40 seconds apart to open a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the contest.

The Predators second tally was the flashiest with Taylor Beck laying out his man at center ice, taking the puck into the zone and firing a shot that Paul Gaustad followed up, knocking in the rebound out of midair and into the net.

“I made a hit on the guy, and we we’re fortunate to get a 2-on-1 with Goose and me,” Beck said. “I threw it on net and Goose made an unbelievable play tipping that in while he was moving.”

“Honestly, it started with [Gabriel] Bourque doing a great job of getting the puck out of the zone,” Gaustad said of his scoring play. “And then Beck hitting that guy and keeping his feet, that was a pretty great play. That’s really tough to do. Then it was a great shot and I was fortunate to get the tip.”

The offensive contribution from the usually “defensive-minded” fourth line came 40 ticks after Ribeiro’s defection had put Nashville ahead 1-0.

“I feel like we’ve done a good job recently,” Beck said of the fourth line chipping in on both sides of the puck. “We’ve been playing against the first line mostly, and whenever we can play down in their zone, they can’t play offense. That’s the best defense, if we can keep wearing them down.”

Santo’s First for the Second Time:

The Predators welcomed two former draft picks home on February 15 when they acquired two original Nashville selections, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On Thursday night against the NHL’s top team at home, Santorelli scored the game-winner, his first goal as a Preds skater...for the second time.

“It’s a relief,” Santorelli said of his tally. “I was getting the looks and chances, so it’s nice to finally have one sneak by...I think since I’ve come here, I’ve liked the way I’ve been generating chances. It was frustrating for sure, I think anyone that goes through a drought like that gets a little frustrated.”

They don’t ask how, they just ask how many. For Santorelli, it didn’t matter how it went in, just that it did.

“It was huge to get a couple bounces there,” Santorelli said. “Maybe it wasn’t our best effort, but we still found a way to win. Anytime you get two points, you did something right, so we just want to keep building on that and look forward to the next game.”

End Game:

With a win in Tampa Bay, this Predators team became the fifth squad in franchise history to reach the 100-point mark, joining the 2005-06, 06-07, 09-10 and 11-12 groups. The 2006-07 team posted a club-record 51 wins and 110 points.

The Predators have won three games in a row for the first time since they rattled off six consecutive victories from Feb. 7 through Feb. 17.

With an assist on Mike Ribeiro’s first period goal, Roman Josi tallied his 53rd point and is now just three points away from tying Shea Weber for the franchise record for points by a defenseman in a single season.

Mike Santorelli’s goal was his first in 20 games overall. Ribeiro’s tally was his first in nine games, while Paul Gaustad recorded his first goal in seven.

With Viktor Stalberg’s return to the lineup, the Preds reassigned forward Kevin Fiala to Milwaukee of the AHL after he was recalled on emergency conditions prior to Tuesday’s game against Montreal.

Nashville now moves on to Washington for a meeting with the Capitals on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. CT, followed by a return home on Sunday to host Calgary at 4 p.m.

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