Lightning in a better spot entering clash with Predators

NHL Hockey

The reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be ramping up their game as they head into the closing stretch of the regular season.

In advance of Tuesday’s road clash with the Nashville Predators, the Lightning have won two consecutive games after a rare rough patch when they lost five of seven.

The Lightning defeated the Predators 3-0 on Saturday and have won six of the first seven meetings between the teams this season. Tuesday is the last scheduled regular-season meeting between the teams.

Before Monday’s trade deadline, the Lightning added to their deep roster with a pair of defensemen, David Savard and Brian Lashoff, after the three-way trade that cost them this year’s first-round draft choice as well as third-round choice this year and a fourth-round pick in 2022. They also added defenseman Fredrik Claesson from the San Jose Sharks.

Tampa Bay expects offensive catalyst Nikita Kucherov, who has been out all season due to injury, to return by the time the playoffs begin.

“We’d identified the area that we could most improve our team would be by the acquisition of a top four right-shot defenseman, and very quickly we targeted David Savard as being the best fit for that role,” general manager Julien BriseBois said. “We had the chance to see David play against our team during our last two playoff runs. We got to see how hard he is to play against.”

Tampa’s victory over the red-hot Predators was a strong performance after a first period in which goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 18 saves and needed to stop only another 18 the rest of the way.

“The first period was the least amount of scoring chances they had,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It looks bad because of the shots if you’re looking at those stats, but (Vasilevskiy) could see them and I think that was the big thing for us.

“What I didn’t like was just the fact that we were spending so much time in our (defensive) zone. We kind of figured out what we had to do there in the second and third. It got better.”

Nashville rebounded from Saturday’s loss with a 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday. The Predators have gone on a 12-3-0 run since March 14 that has put them into the fourth spot of the Central Division. Prior to their roll, they had an 11-16-1 mark and sat 10 points out of a playoff spot.

“We’re feeling good,” Predators forward Ryan Johansen said. “It’s a simple recipe to have fun: You go out, you come to the rink every day, you work hard, and we obviously love what we do.

“We’ve had each other’s backs since Day 1, and that’s (shown up) here in the last 15 games or so. We’ve stuck together and dug ourselves out of a hole and worked ourselves into a good spot.”

Sunday’s victory put Nashville six points ahead of sixth-place Dallas and four points ahead of the fifth-place Chicago prior to the Blackhawks’ game Monday.

“We really focused on the competitiveness of the game,” Nashville coach John Hynes said of his team’s win over Dallas. “We’re all aware of the standings. It’s the best time of year, and this is when the most competitive games have got to bring out the most competitive men. We talked about really enjoying the process.”

At the deadline, the Predators acquired defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Ottawa Senators for a prospect and seventh-round draft pick – a small move but a sign the organization wanted to reward the players for their run instead of rebuilding.

Nashville forward Michael McCarron will sit out the second half of the two-game suspension he received for an illegal check to the head of Lightning forward Yanni Gourde.

–Field Level Media

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