The Lightning have had success against the Predators this season, winning five of their six meetings going into Saturday night’s game at Nashville.
But the Predators recently became one of the hottest teams in the NHL, battling from near the bottom of the Central Division into fourth place, the division’s final playoff position.
Despite continuing to allow too many open looks, the Lightning were able to cool the Predators with a 3-0 win. Tampa Bay (28-11-2) improved to 20-0-0 when leading after two periods.
The Predators, 8-2-0 in their past 10 games, remained in fourth place.
The Lightning were without captain Steven Stamkos, who also was expected to miss Tuesday’s game in Nashville, but they are expected to receive reinforcements Tuesday. That’s when defenseman David Savard, acquired from the Blue Jackets in a three-team trade Saturday, is expected to play in his first game for Tampa Bay.
From the game’s opening minutes Saturday, when Andrei Vasilevskiy turned away a 2-on-1 breakaway, the Lightning’s star goaltender was sharp.
Vasilevskiy recorded 36 saves in his fourth shutout of the season. He received help from an overturned goal when the Lightning challenged Ryan Ellis’ score in the second period, saying the Predators were offside. After a lengthy review, the goal was taken off the scoreboard.
“(Vasilevskiy is) so good for us every single night,” said Lightning forward Yanni Gourde. “We can trust him every single night. It’s amazing what he does back there. That first period, they had (18 shots). And there was some Grade-A opportunities there, and he turned back all of them.”
Nashville dominated zone time in the first period, outshooting Tampa Bay 18-5, but the Lightning tightened their game defensively in the second and third periods. It marked the fourth time in Vasilevskiy’s past seven games that he recorded at least 36 saves.
“What I didn’t like was the fact that we’re just spending so much time in our D zone (in the first period),” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We kind of figured out what we had to do there in the second and third, it got better for us. But still, we did have our breakdowns, and ‘Vasy’ was there to kick them out for us.
“As long as we give him an opportunity to see the puck and we clear the rebounds, I mean, he can take shots all day.”
Still, the Lightning was able to grab the lead in the first. Just 6:45 in, Gourde spun around and fed streaking Ross Colton across the left circle. The rookie forward beat Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne with a backhanded shot through the five hole. Gourde’s assist was his fifth in the past two games, while Colton’s goal was his seventh in his first 15 NHL games.
The Lightning tightened their play in the second period and added to their lead on a goal by defenseman Erik Cernak after Ellis’ goal was overturned.
“In the first period, I’d say that we weren’t really skating much,” Gourde said. “We were maybe forcing plays a little bit. We were too far from each other. We had a hard time breaking the puck out. They’re a very fast team game over there, so we got outskated early in, and I think as the game went on, we got better.”
Among Vasilevskiy’s most sparkling saves, he turned away Rem Pitlick in the first period after the Nashville rookie weaved through defenders and had an open look. Then Vasilevskiy made a toe save on Pitlick’s one-timer from the slot while Nashville was on a second-period power play.
In the third period, Vasilevskiy made a remarkable pad save on Rocco Grimaldi’s one-timer from the right circle during a power play.
Gourde scored an empty-netter with 45.5 seconds left in the game.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Colton 7 (Sergachev, Gourde), 6:45. Penalties—Johnson, TB (Interference), 17:25.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Cernak 2 (Palat, Point), 14:04. Penalties—Hedman, TB (Holding), 16:08.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Gourde 14, 19:14 (en). Penalties—Ekholm, NSH (Holding Stick), 5:02; Hedman, TB (Holding), 7:42; Cousins, NSH (Tripping), 9:19; Sissons, NSH (Slashing), 9:56; Nashville bench, served by Pitlick (Misconduct), 19:37; Goodrow, TB (Roughing), 19:37.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-15-14_34. Nashville 18-8-10_36.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Nashville 0 of 3.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 25-6-1 (36 shots-36 saves). Nashville, Rinne 9-12-1 (33-31).
A—0 (17,113). T—2:33.
Referees—Dan O’Rourke, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Bryan Pancich, Andrew Smith.
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