Nashville Predators 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2 (OT): Saros Picks Up W; Defense, Power Play Contribute

Juuse Saros got a much-needed win, Roman Josi’s pricetag continues to rise, and the Preds scored two and a half times in one game on the power play!

The Predators flew out to Tampa for a meetup with the Lightning, a team they’ve had some success against in the past. They’d need all the luck they’ve managed in those games, as Matt Duchene joined Filip Forsberg on the injured-non-participating list with a lower-body injury of his own, and Juuse Saros got his fourth start of the season. That luck would prove to hold.

Anthony Richard replaced Duchene in the lineup, playing his second NHL game, while Miikka Salomaki remained in for Forsberg.

Saros had started the season off struggling behind his defense, going 0-3-0 and allowing a number of goals in otherwise-winnable games. He seems to struggle at the start of seasons, but the solution can’t be to run Pekka Rinne into the ground either. Because of that, it was good to see the Preds’ defenders being a little more aware of Saros from the start, with Mattias Ekholm swooping in to deny the Lightning a fabulous second-chance opportunity after Saros landed himself out of the net making a dramatic first save.

Luke Witkowski took a penalty a few moments after, and the Predators went on the power play. With Forsberg and Duchene out, the power play looked uninspiring, with both units unused to playing together and the once-lethal top unit in particular now down two skilled and clever puck-handlers. Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos combined for the most threatening chance of that two minutes.

Saros was able to make a great stop on a Nikita Kucherov chance shortly after, which was somehow only the Lightning’s fifth shot on goal of the game. The Lightning have spent a fair amount of this game making extremely dangerous-looking plays, and even though the Preds have doubled them up in shots on goal the game doesn’t feel at all lopsided—or if it does, it feels lopsided in favor of the team that’s not missing so many of its best offensive players to injury.

With six minutes left in the first period, Ondrej Palat tripped Dante Fabbro and the Amalie Arena faithful began yelling “REF YOU SUCK” as the Predators were jettisoned back out of 5v5 play and onto the power play—where Calle Järnkrok proceeded to score while I was still lamenting the initial call. I’m not complaining about that bounce.

Mattias Ekholm went almost end-to-end, breaking up a Kucherov chance and getting the puck way into the Bolts’ zone, but unfortunately wasn’t able to convert on that or any of the other solid plays he made on what was a terrific shift from start to finish. The Predators were able to get a few more chances to follow, but the period ultimately ended without further score.

Ryan Johansen started the second period off taking a slashing penalty after being caught behind the play, and Steven Stamkos scored, as he has a tendency to do, six seconds into that power play. Barely thirty seconds into the period, the Preds’ struggling penalty kill had lost their lead, and only a little more than a minute after that Matt Irwin took a penalty of his own.

The Lightning’s power play contributed to their overwhelming regular-season record and their spectacular postseason defeat last year; giving it chances is something the Predators should not be looking to do. The Preds were able to kill this one off.

Saros made a spectacular stop on a great chance by Stamkos which I was sure was going to go in. With a little under seven minutes gone in the period, Braydon Coburn made a bad choice during a line change while the Lightning were pressing hard, and the Preds got bailed out by a whistle for too many men.

Once again, Stamkos was involved in one of the better scoring chances of the Predators’ power play.

Irwin got distracted by Brayden Point and allowed Tyler Johnson to walk right into the blue paint and had a front-row seat as the Lightning got their first lead of the game. I’ve had some concerns about Saros, but that was absolutely on his defense—Ekholm tried to bail Irwin out, but wasn’t able to make it in time, and you just can’t let Point and Johnson do whatever they want.

Some back-and-forth play was followed by Nick Bonino accidentally launching a puck over the glass, but fortunately the Predators were able to kill off this penalty and Saros was able to freeze the puck not long after it ended, leaving the Preds with a media timeout to catch their breath.

With just a couple of minutes left in the second period, Saros lost his stick with the third pairing on the ice and nobody except the Bolts skaters noticed, which was a lively and terrifying experience for us fans. Eventually the puck was iced, which allowed Saros to get his stick back, and the period ended without further goals.

The Predators entered the third with a deficit, again, and their third-period goal-scoring talent would be called on, again, in an attempt to catch up.

I missed the next several minutes because my cat opted to sit directly in front of my screen, but I didn’t miss any goals or penalties. Just as she settled down, Dan Hamhuis got sent to the ice by a blocked shot that left him lying there for long enough to be concerning, and may have caught him in a delicate area.

Roman Josi cross-checked Ryan McDonagh to the ice over 200 feet from his own net, then tripped over McDonagh just to make the whole thing even more elegant. The sprawl did nothing, but the cross-check left Nashville shorthanded and down one of their best remaining creators of offense while trailing. Not his best move of the season. Fortunately for Josi, the Predators were able to kill off the penalty and try to get back on the attack.

Ryan Ellis broke up a two-on-one by blocking the pass and even he looked surprised. The Preds needed that, but they need some offense too, and that’s what they’re struggling with. The offense has been really uninspired with only one line that’s a threat—a familiar problem for Preds fans, because that means only one line needs to be neutralized.

Kyle Turris almost tied the game, but unfortunately Victor Hedman is also still good at hockey. Then Järnkrok went to the front of the net and drew a penalty with just over five minutes left in regulation and the Predators still trailing by one. The chances were piling up, and this one panned out: Roman Josi blasted a one-timer through a ton of traffic and tied the game. Turris tried to end it in regulation with the same move he’d tried to tie it with, but had no more luck this time.

The game went to overtime tied 2-2 and the Predators got the tie point. The Predators lost their only previous extra-time game in the shootout a week ago; the Lightning are 1-1.

Josi got unambiguously tripped on a breakaway by Brayden Point and crashed hard into the boards with no call of any kind, but seconds later the refs got their contacts back in and whistled the Bolts for too many men. The Predators were unable to convert on the power play, but Ryan Ellis ended it seconds after the penalty expired.

The Predators’ winning streak in Tampa continued, and Juuse Saros was able to take a W to the room.

Random Observations

  • I’m not sure that thing I get when I see Nikita Kucherov racing in on goal is heart palpitations but I’m also not sure it’s not heart palpitations, you know? (You know.)
  • Willy Daunic has gotten a lot better at play-by-play since he started working with Chris Mason instead of Stu Grimson. I used to seek out opponent coverage when Grimson was doing color and the whole FS-TN broadcast is honestly pretty good these days.
  • Stop! Taking! Penalties!
  • Pekka Rinne with the glove save FROM THE BENCH. I love it.
  • Egad, Saros.
  • It’s been a long time since 2015 but I still remember you don’t let Tyler Johnson do that.
  • Anthony Richard has been fine, so far. Got a shot on goal and everything this time!
  • “I really hope they come up with the tying goal.” So do I, Peks.
  • Calle Järnkrok’s helmet just came off. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.
  • Josi making up for that stupid penalty earlier. Man that was a nice goal. That was real nice.
  • ELLIS!/

OTF’s Super Duper Stars of the Game

  1. Roman Josi: big goal, big assists, looming big paycheck. The penalty wasn’t good, but he made some great defensive plays as well as some great offensive plays, so I’ll allow it.
  2. Juuse Saros: kept the Preds in it, made some heartstopping saves on some extremely skilled players, and got that much-needed first W of the season.
  3. Ryan Ellis: Ellis is having a great season, and although I almost gave the third star to Järnkrok that OT winner tipped it.

Tweets of the Night