Guy Boucher almost got exactly what he wanted from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night.
The Lightning’s first-year head coach, who often preaches his desire for a relentless effort from his team each night, got just that to the tune of the dramatics against the Nashville Predators, but in a hard-fought 4-3 defeat at the St. Pete Times Effort.
Tampa Bay outshot its opponent for a fourth consecutive game, holding a 45-26 shot advantage following 60 minutes of play, the last five of which were characterized by a barrage of offense which fit directly into the type of style the coach is trying to instill in just his first NHL season.
Martin St. Louis and Adam Hall each scored just 57 seconds apart with under five minutes to play in regulation, sparking a two-goal rally that negated a 4-1 Nashville lead and brought the Lightning to within one goal of sending the game into overtime.
“Our work ethic in the third period was excellent,” St. Louis said. “We were there. We just kind of missed it early on.”
Much like in each game they have played this season, the Lightning had plenty of shots in the final three minutes of regulation, not only on net, but to gain at least one point with the possibility of a second one.
Martin Erat was called for a penalty at 16:53 after cross-checking Lightning forward Steven Stamkos into the boards, providing Tampa Bay with one last surge of offense with a 6-on-4 man advantage after goaltender Dan Ellis vacated the net in favor of the extra attacker.
“Things got a little hairy at the end,” Nashville Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “They came down and executed.”
Pavel Kubina had a chance at a backhand, but it sailed wide. Nate Thompson and yan Malone also had a few cracks at the net, but Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback held strong to keep the Predators undefeated in regulation on the season.
Lindback finished with 42 saves, cushioned by a pair of first-period goals from Shea Weber and Sergei Kostitsyn and additional tallies from Cody Franson and Colin Wilson.
“You’re running out of time and I think you’re pinching more and playing more aggressive,” St. Louis added. “We were pressing a little bit more. There was definitely a desperation level.”
Sean Bergenheim also had a goal for Tampa Bay, who lost in regulation for just the second time in eight games this season by surrendering its first home loss to Nashville in over 10 years.
The win marked Nashville’s second straight, as the Predators gained a point for the eighth consecutive time in as many games this season and won its seventh consecutive game decided by just a single goal.
“I told my guys that it is alright to win by more than a goal,” Trotz added. “It seems like the ones that we win are always by a goal. We never make it easy on ourselves.”
Bergenheim opened scoring after Kubina fed him a pass through the slot that left him one-on-one with Lindback, who the Lightning forward beat in the top corner at 6:30.
Weber tied things up at one apiece after banking a rebound off the near post just past the halfway mark of the first period, and Kostitsyn made it 2-1 less than four minutes later.
Nashville gained a two-goal advantage at 17:55 in the second when Franson deked Ellis to the backhand side before pulling the puck across to the forehand and scoring on a breakaway.
“Leggy (David Legwand) made a good play off the wall and I just tried to get Ellis to bite one something,” Franson said. “He has seen most of what I had in shootouts last year in practice so I tried to show him something he hadn’t seen before. Luckily he bit on it.”
Ellis stopped 22 of 26 shots against his former club.
Wilson sent a shot past the Tampa Bay net minder at 14:10 in the final period to extend the lead to three, but the Lightning returned the deficit to two goals just 51 seconds later as St. Louis found the back of the net with his third of the season.
Hall then made it 4-3 less than a minute following the St. Louis goal, fighting for a puck in front of the net and slipping one past the Nashville net minder at 15:58.
“You’re never happy with a loss and you always want to play well against your ex-mates,” Ellis said. “You’ve got to give them credit for playing a gritty road game. They are a hard-working team.”
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