Venerable Tampa Bay right winger Nikita Kucherov scored two goals and Lightning defenseman Nick Paul met him with a pair of third-period scores as the Tampa Bay Lightning downed the Nashville Predators, 5-3, on the opening night for both teams.
After center Juuso Parssinen gave Nashville it’s first lead at 2-1 some 11 seconds into the second period, the Lightning needed to turn up the jets on their offense and make a challenge.
The height of the challenge would occur in a 42-second span where Nick Paul scored on a power play goal and the Lightning took a 3-2 lead on a penalty shot by Brandon Hagel with 16:53 remaining in the third period.
“So much emotion goes into the first game,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “I know there are 82 of them, but there’s something special about the first – the home opener. Guys want to impress. Guys have won jobs. There are a lot of new guys out there.”
The effect that Paul had on the game was a magnification of Cooper’s program and how he and his staff have put together a team that is a next-man-up philosophy based on roster talents and the comings and goings that punctuate the movement of any NHL team.
“Pauly has been with us for a while and he has watched the dynamics everything goes through and that has really helped him,” noted Cooper. “Put a guy in there that is new to the team and it is a little different.”
Paul’s power play goal at the 2:25 mark of the third period allowed for the beginning of a momentum shift when Nashville took a 2-1 lead just 11 seconds into the second. Jusso Parssinien went five-hole on Lightning goalie Jonas Johansson after he deflected a Lightning pass and turned it into a turnover in the Tampa Bay zone.
Kucherov and Stamkos then pushed a pass to Steven Stamkos in the circle. He shot at the net and Paul dug out the puck, at 2:25 into the third period.
A huge key in Paul’s first power-play goal of the game was the tenacity of center Brayden Point who kept the puck alive in the crease in front of Preds goalie Juuse Saros.
“It’s a big spot to be in,” said Cooper of the ability of Paul. “We have had some players there over the years. He kind of fits the mode there. He’s in front. He’s got a good stick. Power play as a whole did a great job.”
Hagel scored on a penalty shot to leave Tampa Bay with a 3-2 lead at 3:07 and then, Predators center Tommy Novak tied the score at 3-3 at the 8:42 mark.
Paul then struck on his second power-play goal of the evening when he had a stick back of a Mikhail Sergachev shot just after Point left the puck on Sergachev’s blade after a slight drop.
“When you are out with good players, my job is to get them the puck,” said Paul. “You stand there and take the goalie away and crash in front and put it in.”
Meanwhile, Johansson stayed the course in his first game in goal for Tampa Bay. The Predators found only two shots on goal in the first period before connecting for three in the second.
“He wasn’t erratic,” noted Cooper. “He just played positional goal. When the heat got turned up his heart rate didn’t go up. You want to see that in your goaltender.”