Lightning fall to Predators in Monday matinee

By Eduardo A. Encina
Tampa Bay Times/TNS

TAMPA, Fla. - The Lightning started an unforgiving stretch of their schedule - five games in seven days - with one of their most uninspiring performances of the season Monday at Amalie Arena.

As well as Tampa Bay has played this season, there were bound to be hiccups, and Monday’s 4 p.m. game was one of them. The Lightning fell 4-1 to the Nashville Predators before heading to Dallas for a one-off 8:30 p.m. road game on Tuesday.

The Lightning had their opportunities but sputtered offensively, particularly on the power play. Tampa Bay went 0-for-3 against a Nashville penalty kill that ranked 31st in the league and had allowed goals on its past four penalty-kill situations.

Tampa Bay, which won each of its previous five meetings with Nashville this season, has struggled with backup Curtis McElhinney in net, going 7-9-2 in his last 18 starts dating back to last season. The number of breakaways the Lightning allowed on Monday left McElhinney, who stopped 22 of 25 shots, in a tough situation.

At the other end, Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne was phenomenal, making 38 saves and frustrating the Lightning skaters.

The Predators scored the game’s first three goals in the second period, capped by Calle Jarnkrok’s shorthanded goal with 8:14 left in the period.

Steven Stamkos prevented a shutout by scoring with just under 10 minutes remaining, his shot deflecting off Nashville defenseman Dante Fabbro’s skate and into the net.

Nashville scored first, taking advantage of a 3-on-2 rush when rookie Eeli Tolvanen unloaded a wrister from the left circle past McElhinney just under four minutes into the second period. The Predators scored again when Erik Haula fed Viktor Arvidsson after whiffing on a shot in front of the net,and Arvidsson rocketed a one-timer from the left circle.

The Lightning were on the power play when the Predators went up 3-0. Mattias Ekholm cleared a puck from behind the Nashville end line, and Lightning forward Brayden Point reached his stick into the air to try to keep it in the zone. Instead, it resulted in a Jarnkrok breakaway goal.

Ekholm added an empty-netter with 20 seconds remaining to make it 4-1.

Rinne, who lost his three previous starts against Tampa Bay this season, had the Lightning talking to themselves throughout the game. Tampa Bay manufactured many good looks, particularly the first line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli.

Defenseman Victor Hedman had one of the Lightning’s best opportunities early, juking Rinne to give himself a backhanded shot inside the post. But Fabbro blocked Hedman’s shot with his stick before it crossed the goal line.

Point and Palat had several good looks, but Rinne stoned them at every turn, once when Palat deflected a puck high off the ice that the 6-foot-5 Rinne had to reach up and snare out of the air with his glove.