The first meeting between the visiting Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday wasn’t just another game in the Central Division.
Monday’s rematch in Tampa likely won’t be either.
On a night that featured some great firsts, early-season chippy play and a lead that almost got away, the Lightning snapped their scoreless drought and a four-game home losing streak to Nashville with a 4-3 victory.
For starters, Tampa Bay’s Callan Foote (in his fourth game) and Nashville’s Mathieu Olivier (14th) recorded the first goals of their NHL careers.
On Saturday morning in a pregame interview, Lightning center Yanni Gourde suggested some aggression could be on display at Amalie Arena.
“They’re a strong and big team usually,” Gourde said, “so we’ve got to expect a big and physical game against these guys.”
He was right.
The testy contest featured a pair of fights — Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon versus Mark Borowiecki and Lightning teammate Gourde against Dante Fabbro. The game ended at center ice with the clubs still feisty and pestering each other as the visitors ran out of time with the net empty.
“It’s good to see guys get engaged and physical and sticking up for their teammates,” Maroon said on Sunday while sporting a fresh battle scar on his nose.
“When they pushed, we pushed a lot harder back.”
Tyler Johnson’s power-play conversion in the second period ended a stretch of 124:59 without a goal by the club. It also ignited a four-goal period for Tampa Bay, which snapped a two-game losing streak.
Anthony Cirelli was eventually credited with an assist on Johnson’s marker, giving him two on the night and bringing his career point total to 100.
The period’s final goal — a rocket from the left circle by captain Steven Stamkos — proved to be the game-winning tally. It was the 62nd winner of the captain’s career, two shy of Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis’ franchise record, and his 300th career power-play point.
Trailing 4-1 in the third period, Nashville fought hard against the Stanley Cup champions. Olivier and Viktor Arvidsson scored in the third period before the clock ran out on a strong comeback bid.
The Predators have been beleaguered by one giant nemesis that they can’t seem to overcome: a dreadful showing on the penalty kill.
While down a player, the Predators have successfully denied opposing man advantages just 21 of 33 times (63.6 percent) — which sits last in the NHL through Saturday’s games.
Nashville coach John Hynes said the club’s response in the third period was the right direction after the disastrous second 20 minutes.
“We stayed out of the penalty box,” Hynes said. “We got into penalty trouble in the second period and that carried the momentum to Tampa. We didn’t do a good job responding to that momentum.
“In the third period, we dug in and played a lot faster and executed with the puck better. We were a harder team. The second period cost us the game.”
–Field Level Media