The Tampa Bay Lightning won a physical, playoff-style match in Nashville on Tuesday night, and now they return to Florida with more confidence than they have had over the past two weeks.
Winger Nikita Kucherov chipped in Steven Stamkos’ diagonal pass in overtime, slipping his third career overtime winner past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne for a 3-2 victory in Nashville.
The win snapped a three-game (0-2-1) losing skid for the Atlantic Division club and handed the Predators their seventh defeat in their past eight home games.
The Lightning will continue their play against three consecutive Western Conference foes by hosting the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay’s only visit to Nashville was a chippy outing, more resembling a springtime postseason matchup than an early December meeting between clubs from opposite conferences who play just twice during the regular season.
Nashville’s Ryan Johansen was called for elbowing after a hard hit that bloodied Brayden Point’s nose and given a game misconduct. On Wednesday, he was fined $5,000. Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak returned the favor with a high shot against Daniel Carr that received a two-minute penalty but not an ejection, angering the Predators.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy bailed out the Lightning in the end as the Russian backstop posted 30 saves to help end his club’s bad spell.
Luke Schenn, who fought Nashville’s Austin Watson in an edgy second period, gave much of the credit to Vasilevskiy for allowing the team to leave the Music City with two points.
“It’s world-class goaltending, obviously,” said Schenn, in his first year playing defense for the Lightning. “He wins the Vezina (Trophy) last year and brings it every game. There have been some nights where we’ve hung him out to dry and he bailed us out.
“It’s not by accident that he puts up those numbers that he does.”
With No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk out for personal reasons due to his wife’s illness, the Wild turned to rookie Kaapo Kahkonen for his second career start on Tuesday night.
The Finnish backstop, who beat the Devils last Tuesday in New Jersey, responded one week later in South Florida as he turned aside 44 of 46 shots by the Florida Panthers in a 4-2 comeback win by the Wild.
Minnesota’s victory was its fourth straight and earned the team points in its 10th consecutive contest during a 7-0-3 stretch.
The Panthers tallied twice in a tough first period for Minnesota, which also lost Jared Spurgeon for the game with an upper-body injury after the defenseman played just five shifts. ESPN reported on Wednesday that Spurgeon would be out about two weeks.
But Minnesota received goals from Jason Zucker and Mats Zuccarello to tie the game in the second period, and Carson Soucy notched the game-winner after gloving a pass from Zach Parise and pushing his second career goal past Florida backup Chris Driedger — making his second career start like Kahkonen.
Luke Kunin ended any hopes of a Florida comeback by banking a clearing attempt off the sideboards, and the puck rolled the length of the ice for an empty-net goal.
However, Kahkonen and his 44-save effort — a franchise rookie record — stole the show for the streaking Wild.
“The goalie played great,” said Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau. “When your goalie plays great, good things happen.”
–Field Level Media