NASHVILLE — The Lightning figured this four-game road trip through the Central Division would be a "measuring stick."
And judging from Tuesday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Predators at Bridgestone Arena, Tampa Bay has its hands full.
The Lightning squandered three one-goal leads, giving up the tying goal with just more than five minutes to go, before getting shut out in the shootout, with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne thwarting Ryan Callahan, Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov. Filip Forsberg scored the only shootout goal, keeping Tampa Bay winless in Nashville since 2008.
"We played well enough to win this game," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We've got to make sure we shut it down."
The Lightning (4-2-1) had a lot of reasons to be encouraged, having played one of its best games of the season in a difficult road environment.
Hedman, in his return from an apparent head injury, said he felt better as the game wore on, racking up two assists in a team-high 23 minutes, 51 seconds. Tampa Bay's special teams came through, with captain Steven Stamkos scoring his fifth goal of the season and the much-maligned penalty kill going 3-for-3, including thwarting a power play in the final minutes of regulation. Tampa Bay has killed six straight penalties after allowing seven goals in their first 15 PKs.
"They score there we're staring at zero points," coach Jon Cooper said.
But Tampa Bay could have easily had two. After squandering two one-goal leads, both in fewer than 91 seconds, the Lightning let one slip away when Predators forward James Neal scored his second in the game with 5:30 to go.
"The most encouraging thing is that we played a good game, we haven't been playing to our standards so far," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "This is a much better game. But obviously having a 2-1, 3-2, 4-3 (lead) and then blow it, it's a little tough."
The Lightning's Triplets line snapped its scoring slump with a Nikita Kucherov goal in the second period, the line's first at even strength in seven games. But it was the top line of Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Jonathan Drouin that set the tone.
"That was the best game for our line," Stamkos said.
Callahan, who also was a catalyst on the new-look penalty kill, put Tampa Bay up 3-2 late in the second on a shot from the point, helped by a Drouin screen. But, for the second consecutive period, Nashville scored in the final 65 seconds of the period.
"We've got to try to shut the door," Cooper said.
The Lightning nearly won in a much more controlled 3-on-3 overtime period, with Stralman having the best chance, a breakaway. But Stralman put his shot just over the crossbar.
"I had my one move, that's what I did," Stralman said. "It worked, I just put it a little bit high."
Goalie Ben Bishop, who made 29 saves in regulation, racked up two more in the shootout to give Tampa Bay a chance. The Lightning just hopes to carry some momentum into a Friday/Saturday back-to-back in Winnipeg and Chicago.
"We deserved at least a point, and we got it," Cooper said. "Now we've got to move it on the road."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
|Predators win shootout 1-0|
First Period—1, Nashville, Fisher 1 (Weber, Neal), 19:07. Penalties—Arvidsson, Nas (hooking), 14:12.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 5 (Hedman, Filppula), 3:25 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 2 (Palat, Coburn), 8:51. 4, Nashville, Weber 1 (Ribeiro, Wilson), 10:29. 5, Tampa Bay, Callahan 3 (Hedman, Stralman), 17:41. 6, Nashville, Neal 4 (Forsberg, Fisher), 18:55. Penalties—Neal, Nas (hooking), 1:39; Stamkos, TB (holding), 11:10; Bishop, TB, served by Killorn (hooking), 13:51.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Condra 2 (Boyle), 5:24. 8, Nashville, Neal 5 (Forsberg), 14:30. Penalties—Coburn, TB (hooking), 17:22.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 0 (Callahan NG, Drouin NG, Kucherov NG), Nashville 1 (Forsberg G, C.Smith NG, Neal NG). Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 10-8-10-1—29. Nashville 12-9-11-1—33. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 2; Nashville 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 4-2-1 (33 shots-29 saves). Nashville, Rinne 4-1-0 (29-25). A—17,113 (17,113). T—2:43. Referees—Justin St. Pierre, Brad Watson. Linesmen—Bryan Pancich, Tony Sericolo.