James Neal has overcome a slow start and provided plenty of offense in the last two games, which is something he’s almost always done against Tampa Bay.
The Lightning head to Nashville on Tuesday night, where the Predators will try for a fourth straight win in the series while remaining unbeaten at home.
The Predators (4-1-0) followed up two home wins with a 2-1-0 road trip, concluding with Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa. Neal scored two power-play goals, got the shootout winner, and he also scored in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders.
"It was a good road trip," Neal told the team’s official website. "We talked about it going into the third period, you can have one win and two losses going home and it was a huge third period for us. We had a good win in New Jersey, and I thought we played our best game of the year on Long Island and didn’t get a win, so coming in here and pulling one out was good."
Nashville, which is beginning a three-game homestand, has to be pleased with the home success thus far after tanking at Bridgestone Arena down the stretch in the spring with two wins in its last 11 regular-season games.
It has won the last three meetings with Tampa Bay and the last four at home. Neal scored in the one he played in during his first season with the Predators and has three goals in his last four games against the Lightning, as well as 12 points in his last eight – all victories.
Pekka Rinne has also helped produce results against the Lightning, even if his 2.70 goals-against average doesn’t quite match up with his 4-0-0 record in the series.
Rinne didn’t face the Senators but is 3-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA and .944 save percentage to start the season, which includes allowing one goal in the two home games.
Tampa Bay (4-2-0) is beginning a four-game road trip following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Buffalo. Ben Bishop had possibly his best game of the season with 31 saves, and in doing so became Tampa Bay’s all-time wins leader.
"Clearly was the best player on the ice," coach Jon Cooper said.
That hasn’t been the case with a 4.20 GAA in two career losses against Nashville.
The greater relief for Cooper might have been the penalty kill finally coming through. The Lightning killed all three Sabres chances after their first five opponents converted on seven of 15 power-play opportunities. Their 61.1 percent kill rate remains last in the NHL, while Nashville is among the league leaders at 13 for 14 (92.8 percent).
Offensively, Tampa Bay got a goal from Vladislav Namestnikov for a second straight game. The 22-year-old had scored nine goals in his previous 63 NHL games, including the playoffs. He’s still not getting a great deal of ice time, but it sounds like his coach plans on leaning on him more this season.
"He’s hanging in there," Cooper told the team’s official website. "He’s been fighting, fighting, fighting to find a spot in the lineup. He’s getting his chance this year and surely making the best of it. I thought he was one of our bright sports up front tonight and the ice time he got he earned, and he kept getting it. He scores obviously a huge goal for us to tie the game, and you’ve just got to give kids like that credit because he’s never quit."
The Lightning will again be without Nikita Nesterov as the defenseman completes a two-game suspension for a hit from behind Thursday.
Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is day to day after taking a puck to the knee forced him out in Ottawa.