The same old story? Not quite.
Sure, the Nashville Predators got outshot yet again Thursday. That’s nine times in as many games this season.
Unlike any of the others, though, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s advantage in attempts (32-27) was the product of desperation born of large deficits in the score. Content to play defense, basically, for the final half of the contest the Predators cruised to their first home victory, 5-3 before a crowd of 16,619 at Bridgestone Arena.
“It was a lot different than what we’ve been doing so far this year,” captain Shea Weber said. “So it was nice. We managed to score on our chances, and that got us a good lead.”
Not only were the five goals a season-high, they matched the total of the previous four games combined. The last time Nashville scored at least five in the regular season was a 6-3 victory over Atlanta back on April 5, the 80th game of last season.
Mike Fisher, playing just his second game after offseason shoulder surgery, ignited the attack with two goals and an assist. Rookie Craig Smith (two assists), Sergei Kostitsyn (one goal, one assist) and Nick Spaling (one goal, one assist) had multi-point games as well.
“We were getting pucks to the net and right off the bat we were preventing our turnovers as much as possible,” Smith said. “So that was key. We not only were playing hard, we were playing smart.”
The line of Fisher, Smith and Kostitsyn combined for a pair of first-period goals as Nashville jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Tampa Bay recorded six of the last seven shots of that period and pulled even with two goals of their own in the final 3:24.
By the second intermission, the shots were 26-18 in favor of the Lightning. But three goals in fewer than five minutes, the last of those by Fisher with 7:50 remaining, gave the Predators their largest lead of the season. At that point, Tampa pulled starting goalie Mathieu Garon.
“We got out to a lead and they came right back,” Fisher said. “We just kept going, found some ways to get some goals and really worked offensively and capitalized when we needed to. It was a really good effort by everyone.”
The Predators actually got the better of the shots in the third period (9-6) as they counter-attacked out of their defensive posture and applied pressure during a pair of power plays. They kept their cushion at three goals until Steve Stamkos scored his second of the night — this one on a power play — with 2:57 remaining.
“We were up 2-0 and then we turned a couple pucks over and got them, sort of, a lot of chances,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… It’s 2-2 and you sort of test your resiliency right there.
“The [third] goal was really big. If they would have gotten the next goal I think momentum could have swung to their side. But we got the momentum back and we kept it.”
Even so, the shot differential for the season now exceeds 100 (305-202) in favor of the opposition, but the record is balanced at 4-4-1. Nashville remains at the bottom of the league in shots per game (22.4).
At that pace, the margin would exceed 800 at the end of 82 games. As a point of reference, the inaugural Predators team (1998-99) was outshot by 490 for the entire season.
“I thought we played a real solid third period,” Trotz said. “They really didn’t have any shots until the last two or three minutes.”
That sure was different.
• Kostitsyn left the contest with 7:59 to play in the second period after he was checked and fell awkwardly into the boards. Trotz said last season’s leading goal scorer, who has at least a point in seven of nine games this season, might sit out Friday’s practice but was optimistic he would not miss any games.
• Pekka Rinne made 29 saves and his fourth victory of the season gave him 99 for his career. With one more, he will join Tomas Vokoun as the only goalies to win 100 or more for the Predators. Vokoun won 161 times in his eight seasons.
• With their two points each, Kostitstyn and Smith tied David Legwand for the team lead in points at eight.
Smith (four goals, four assists) has a three-game point streak, and Kostitsyn (three goals, five assists) has not gone back-to-back games yet without a point. Legwand (two goals, six assists) currently is mired in a five-game scoreless streak.