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Predators come back to beat Lightning

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators gave, then the Tampa Bay Lightning gave it back.

The Predators fell behind 2-0 midway through the first period but got two second-period power-play goals and another on a third-period man-advantage in a 3-2 victory over the Lightning on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville center Craig Smith and defenseman Roman Josi scored in the second period and right winger Patric Hornqvist got the winner with 6:04 remaining.

"Tonight I thought we played good defense, and special teams won us the game," Predators coach Barry Trotz said.

Right winger Martin St. Louis scored twice for the Lightning, who dropped to 33-20-5.

"In the second period, we couldn't get our defense off the ice. (Nashville) had a lot of offensive zone time and they really tilted the ice. We couldn't kill the penalties that we took," St. Louis said.

The early lead seemed safe as Nashville was making nothing happen offensively through the first period and a half. The Predators, with one of the league's worst offenses, would need some help to score against Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop, who entered the night with the NHL's top save percentage and third-best goals-against average.

Midway through the second period, the Predators had not much threatened, but two huge penalties quickly changed that.

After Tampa Bay was whistled for too many men on the ice, Smith sent a cross-ice pass to defenseman Ryan Ellis, who pushed it back to center Matt Cullen for a back-door goal at 12:05. Ten seconds into the second penalty, Josi slapped one over Bishop's left shoulder and into the net at 13:16.

Nashville had a chance to extend the lead just over five minutes into the third period when left winger Gabriel Borque had a breakaway, but Bishop deflected it with his left leg to preserve the tie. Late in the third, Bishop made another nice play, kicking away a Shea Weber slap shot on a power play.

It would not matter. Seconds later, center Mike Fisher came open and fired the puck on net. Bishop deflected it to his feet, where Hornqvist won a tussle with St. Louis for the eventual winner.

"Getting down two early on them, it's tough, but all year we've battled back. We've been down by three and come back from that so I think (down) two, we just kind of shook it off and in the second and third (periods), I think we upped our game to another level," Ellis said.

For Tampa Bay, explaining the loss was simple.

"You can't give up three goals on the power play in one game. That's just unacceptable," Bishop said. "The goalie's supposed to be your best penalty-killer, so you know what, I'll take the blame for this. I've got to stop one of them."

Earlier in the game, Hornqvist took a puck off the leg, prompting concerns from Trotz that he could finish tonight.

"It was nice to see him get rewarded. I'm thinking, 'That shot can break legs.' It didn't hit him on the pad, it hit him in the back of the leg. I didn't know if he'd come back but if you're not cutting a leg off, he's going to try to play," Trotz said.

It was a far cry from the way the game started.

It took the Lightning just 5:26 and three shots to register the first goal. Left winger Ondrej Palat worked his way from the left side to between the circles where he fired a shot that clanged off the left post. Nashville goalie Carter Hutton had vacated that side of the net, leading to an easy goal for St. Louis.

After a tripping penalty to Ellis, St. Louis got another easy one 30 seconds into the power play when he took what seemed like a harmless shot from outside the right faceoff circle. It hit Hutton in the glove, dribbled down his torso and barely trickled across the goal line, giving Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at 9:13 of the period.

Even with the bad start, Trotz was happy with the team's play on the whole. Blue-liners Weber and Josi played well, keeping the deficit from getting worse.

"The power play was huge, but our 5-on-5 play was strong. We gave up seven shots in the last two periods," Trotz said.

Meanwhile, Nashville's ability to retain possession created issues for the Lightning.

"When there's five guys playing defense, you've got to cycle pucks and get your 'D' involved, but we were one-and-done, and so then you play in your zone a lot when you're one-and-done," St. Louis said.

NOTES: It was the first game back from the break for both teams. "You can tell that there was some rust on people, taking passes, even executing in the zone, that type of thing," Trotz said. "I think both teams in terms of tempo and execution were actually better as the game went on." ... Tonight was the second of six straight home games for Nashville, which dropped the first game on Feb. 8 in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim. ... It was the second of two games between the teams this year, with Tampa Bay winning the first on Dec. 19. ... Lightning RW Martin St. Louis, the team's captain, returned after winning a gold medal for Canada with rumors swirling about his future. Newsday reported that St. Louis had requested a trade last month. The 38-year-old would not confirm that when asked on Wednesday. ... Nashville G Carter Hutton made his 27th start as Pekka Rinne (hip infection) is on a conditioning assignment in Milwaukee. Rinne joined his Nashville teammates on Wednesday for practice and has not played since Oct. 22. ... Lightning C Steve Stamkos (knee) last played Nov. 11 and is targeting a March 6 return.
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