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Lightning outlast Predators

By Eduardo A. Encina
Tampa Bay Times/TNS

The Lightning will get to know their Central Division opponents well, meeting each team eight times during the regular season in the NHL’s realigned format and then staying within the division for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay’s road contest against the Predators Monday night at Bridgestone Arena was its third against Nashville in its past five games and the first of back-to-backs against Nashville.

And while the Lightning and Predators aren’t natural rivals — they played in different conferences, meeting just twice a year before being grouped in the geographically realigned division — they’ve already built up some bad blood this season.

The Lightning have had the last laugh so far, beating Nashville 4-1 for their fifth straight win and third over the Predators in the past 11 days.

The Lightning (8-1-1) took two games from the Predators at Amalie Arena last week, but Nashville had success against the Lightning at home, compiling a 10-game point streak against Tampa Bay on home ice before the Lightning’s win Monday.

The physicality of last week’s games carried over into Monday’s meeting — to the point that even Lightning captain Steven Stamkos took some swings, landing hard punches on Nashville forward Nick Cousins in a second period that saw six penalties between the teams.

Center Anthony Cirelli scored the Lightning’s first two goals, giving him four on the season through 10 games. Blake Coleman and Steven Stamkos added empty-net goals in the closing minutes.

Cirelli’s second goal, which came with 6:58 remaining in the second period, was the Lightning’s first power-play goal in their last nine man-advantage power play opportunities.

That goal came after Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev charged in from the point and rifled a shot from just inside the right circle that deflected off the far post to Cirelli between the circle and the end line. Cirelli scored high over Pekka Rinne’s left shoulder.

On Cirelli’s first goal, he trailed Alex Killorn along the left boards on the rush. Cirelli took a drop pass from Killorn and flicked a wobbly shot from outside the circle past Rinne stickside inside the near post.

One game after the Lightning played one of their worst periods of the season in the middle period of Friday’s 3-1 win over Detroit, they dominated the puck-possession game, particularly in the neutral zone, and spent most of the night in their offensive zone.

Sparingly used backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, making his first start in exactly 11 months, wasn’t tested often early but faced a barrage of shots in the third period.

With 1:24 left in the second period, McElhinney received help from defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who closed off an open net in traffic in the crease.

Nashville (5-7) broke through on its fourth power play of the night as McElhinney couldn’t find Dante Fabbro’s shot from the the point through Viktor Arvidsson’s screen in front of the net with 8:52 remaining in the third.

The teams set the tone early with some fisticuffs in the game’s opening minutes as Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn and Mathieu Olivier dropped their gloves 2:04 into the contest. The fight ended with Schenn getting cut on his forehead.