Stamkos’ lower body injury unclear; status uncertain
The Nashville Predators scored three goals in the third period, Steven Stamkos left the game with an injury, and the Tampa Bay Lightning fell to the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Sunday night in a playoff test sure to cause some concern among fans.
The Lightning came out strong in the first period, controlling the puck and the action for the most part, but it was the Nashville Predators who scored first. Following a great offensive opportunity for Tampa Bay off a forechecking play by Nikita Kucherov, the Predators turned the puck around, leading to a Ryan Johansen goal that was the product of strong transition by Nashville.
Nashville extended the lead to 2-0 as a result of a crazy play and what the hockey coaches of the world refer to as “puck luck.” A Filip Forsberg shot caromed off of the stick of Anton Stralman, popping up in the air and catching Andrei Vasilevskiy off guard as it squirted through the netminder’s leg pads.
The Lightning took the second period over after that, peppering goalie Juuse Saros with shots and making the Predators netminder work hard. This led to an eventual goal, an Ondrej Palat tally after a pass from Stralman bounced off a stick and found Palat in front of some open net.
The two teams became locked in a tight battle for the rest of the second and the early part of the third, with the Lightning continuing to press the action until a pass nobody handled was taken by Filip Forsberg, and the left wing showed why his ceiling is so high that it approaches Peter Forsberg territory. Forsberg completely undressed Dan Girardi with a slick puckhandling move. He then slid the puck past Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goalie tried to adjust.
The third period started to get away from the Lightning after that. A long pass to Craig Smith later in the third got behind the Tampa Bay defensemen, and Smith did not miss his chance on Vasilevskiy to extend the Predators’ lead to 4-1.
Steven Stamkos left the game in the second period with what is being called a lower body injury. It is unclear how severe the injury is or how long it will keep him out, if he’ll miss time at all. The center was able to skate off under his own power, but time will tell whether the injury is going to cause him to miss significant time or if he was held out as more of a precaution.
Special teams continue to be an issue for the Lightning late in the regular season. An early first period power play lasted just 26 seconds before Victor Hedman was called for a penalty of his own, bringing the man advantage to a close. A second power play opportunity led to a couple of solid looks, but no goals. The same was true of the Lightning’s third and fourth attempts on Sunday night. It a hard-working man advantage that just couldn’t produce a goal.
In all, the Lightning wound up 0/5 on the man advantage Sunday night. That wound up being the difference in the game.
Combine this with a penalty kill that has been difficult to watch at times, and the Lightning are scuffling when it comes to special teams at this late point in the season. Perhaps they are experimenting with ideas to see what works and what does not, but at this juncture in the season it is paramount that the Lightning collect their power play and penalty kill by the playoffs.
The NHL Playoffs are coming very soon. The Tampa Bay Lightning have three games remaining, and after that it will be the postseason. There is still much to be settled, most notably the Atlantic Division.
If the Lightning are to win that Atlantic Division, it is mission-critical that they defeat the Boston Bruins at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. The two teams had their closest game of the season on March 29 at TD Garden, with Tampa Bay keeping the 4-2 loss close until the very end. The difference in the game may well have been a very debatable goalie interference call against Anthony Cirelli that waved off a goal by Alex Killorn that could have made the score 3-3.
That disallowed goal looms large coming into Sunday. The Lightning failing to collect a point on Thursday night put Boston ahead in the Atlantic Division, and losing to the Predators on a night where the Bruins lost in overtime to the Flyers cost Tampa Bay another all-important point late in the season.