By Dory LeBlanc
Wednesday night at the Amway Center in Orlando, the Lightning found themselves in an early 3-0 deficit and fought their way back to beat the St. Louis Blues 4-3 in a shootout. Thursday night against the Predators, the Lightning were in the driver's seat the entire game.
At 5:42, Brett Connolly found a lane and skated around a Nashville defenseman, lifting the puck backhanded over netminder Carter Hutton to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead over the visiting Predators, sending the 10,332 in attendance at the Tampa Bay Times Forum into a frenzy.
Before the crowd could sit down, Ondrej Palat rushed from the blue line and found space in the net past Hutton just over a minute later to give the Lightning an early 2-0 lead.
The Bolts played nearly mistake-free hockey for 18 minutes until defenseman Luke Witkowski gave the Predators a one-man advantage on a high-stick penalty, but the visitors couldn't get much going and took zero shots on Tampa Bay goalie Riku Helenius.
With 6:44 off the clock in the middle stanza, Ryan Malone fed Steven Stamkos from behind the net and the Tampa Bay superstar easily sent the puck past Hutton to extend the Lightning's lead to three-nil.
Halfway through the second, head coach Jon Cooper opted to pull Helenius, who stopped all 15 shots he faced, and sent Cedrick Desjardins in between the pipes. The two teams were knotted in a 4-on-4 situation for off-setting minor penalties, when Connolly took a wrister from the right face off circle to extend Tampa Bay's lead with 1:19 left to play in the period.
Nashville head coach Barry Trotz decided to try something different after 40 minutes, and replaced Hutton with Marek Mazarec as the third period opened.
Shortly after the puck dropped, the Lightning found themselves in another man-advantage situation, but Desjardins gave the puck away, resulting in Matt Cullen scoring a shorthanded goal 46 seconds into the third. A little over a minute later, Richard Panik redirected Nikita Kucherov's slapshot, sending the puck under Mazarek to re-gain the four-goal lead.
The Lightning committed three minors in a row in the closing period, but fought off every Predator power play as they coasted to a 5-1 final.
Tampa Bay will head to St. Louis to take on the Blues Friday, then will return home for a Saturday night matchup against in-state rival Florida Panthers. Remember, the preseason games are not televised, so the only way to catch the action is to buy a ticket or listen on sister station 970 WFLA.
Shots On Goal:
Nashville -32 Tampa Bay - 21
Nashville - 3-6 Tampa Bay - 5-10
Three Stars of the Game:
1. Brett Connolly
2. Steven Stamkos
3. Victor Hedman