TAMPA — Lightning goalie Dan Ellis envisioned a different kind of performance against Nashville on Sunday night.
Far different than a 4-3 loss to the team for which he played the last three seasons but allowed him to leave as a free agent when he didn't hold the No. 1 spot.
"You always want to play well against your ex-mates," said Ellis, who finished with 22 saves. "But you've got to give them credit for coming in and playing a gritty road game."
Although he wasn't a dominating figure, especially when he didn't smother a shot that allowed an easy Predators goal to break a 1-1 tie, he didn't get much help from his current mates, either.
The Lightning (5-2-1) made several defensive gaffes that ignited breakaways or two-on-one chances, and the Predators (5-0-3), the only team in the league that has not lost in regulation, capitalized on enough of them.
"If you want to beat a team like that, you can't give away those offensive chances that we gave away," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who has stressed that aggressive defense must be the hallmark of his team.
On Sunday night, the Lightning's high-flying offense couldn't offset those errors. It fell behind 4-1 before mounting a furious comeback bid in the waning minutes with a pair a goals and a power-play opportunity after star center Steven Stamkos, in a scary moment for Lightning fans, was cross-checked into the boards.
"We played a good third (period), but it's tough to come back in this league," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "We did our best to do that, but we shouldn't put ourselves in that situation, and why we got there was we were getting outworked."
Although the Lightning was playing for a third time in four days, it had Saturday off while the Predators were winning at Dallas on Saturday and didn't get here until early in the morning Sunday.
But after falling behind 1-0, the Predators, who hadn't won here since March 24, 1999, their inaugural season, took command and seemed poised to ride goalie Anders Lindback, who finished with 42 saves, to an easy win.
Shoot, some of the fans among the announced crowd of 14,454 were heading to the exits with 5:50 remaining in the game.
St. Louis, however, scored with 4:59 to go, then right wing Adam Hall scored 57 seconds later. Less than a minute after that, Nashville right wing Martin Erat sent an off-balance Stamkos careening into the boards (Stamkos said he was fine and returned to the game) to give the Lightning a fourth power-play chance.
You would think that would net something, given Tampa Bay's heretofore proficiency with a man advantage; 29.4 percent, third best in the NHL. Well, it didn't. As it had done in its last three games against Calgary, Pittsburgh and Dallas when it killed all 10 power plays, Nashville neutralized that chance for the Lightning. Tampa Bay was 0-for-4 on the power play for the game.
"It was just one of those nights," Stamkos said. "We didn't have too many grade A scoring chances and they obviously buried the chances that we gave them early on in the game. It's just a bad start for us, and hopefully we've learned a lesson."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Bergenheim 3 (Kubina), 6:30. 2, Nashville, Weber 1 (Bouillon, O'Reilly), 11:54. 3, Nashville, Kostitsyn 1 (Spaling, Smithson), 15:04. Penalties—Hornqvist, Nas (slashing), 19:58; Hedman, TB (roughing), 19:58.
Second Period—4, Nashville, Franson 2 (Legwand, Tootoo), 17:55. Penalties—Erat, Nas (tripping), 4:03; Smithson, Nas (hooking), 8:27; Tampa Bay bench, served by Purcell (too many men), 9:31; O'Brien, Nas (high-sticking), 12:56.
Third Period—5, Nashville, C.Wilson 2 (Erat, Dumont), 14:10. 6, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 3 (Stamkos, Hedman), 15:01. 7, Tampa Bay, Hall 1 (Thompson, Lundin), 15:58. Penalties—Erat, Nas (cross-checking), 16:53. Shots on Goal—Nashville 10-10-6—26. Tampa Bay 13-16-16—45. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Nashville, Lindback 3-0-1 (45 shots-42 saves). Tampa Bay, D.Ellis 1-2-1 (26-22). A—14,454 (19,758). T—2:23. Referees—Mike Leggo, Don Van Massenhoven. Linesmen—Scott Cherrey, Shane Heyer.