Nashville’s Pekka Rinne makes the difference against Lightning

TAMPA — Pekka Rinne has the Lightning’s number. The Nashville goaltender has just one loss in nine career games against Tampa Bay.

The Lightning is far from alone in that respect. Rinne is one of the league’s top goaltenders. But the Lightning is one of the league’s most potent teams.

Rinne was the difference Thursday night in a game the Lightning played well enough to win. Fresh off an injury that had kept him out for the previous five games, Rinne made 42 saves to beat the Lightning 4-1 at Amalie Arena before an announced sellout crowd of 19,092.

“There was not much else we could have done other than put the puck in the back of the net,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You walk away from this knowing you played a really good opponent. There are going to be games you walk away (from) with zero points, sitting here saying we deserved to get some points out of that game. But you can’t woulda, coulda, shoulda. We didn’t.”

The game never looked like a three-goal game, at least not in Nashville’s favor. The Predators’ first goal, for a 1-0 lead, was the kind of tip by Kyle Turris that you rarely see. Their second goal, for a 2-0 lead, was because of a defensive breakdown in the final seconds of the first period and hurt a lot.

Nashville’s last two goals came late in the third period after the Lightning had pulled within one, the final goal being an empty-netter.

For most of the game, the Lightning (8-3-1) looked like the better team. But it couldn’t get enough past Rinne.

“I think he challenges the puck a lot,” Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. “I don’t know. He obviously is a great goalie. No surprise there. I don’t know. He’s tough to beat.”

In the first period, Rinne stretched out to make an impressive save on Brayden Point. He made an initial save on Tyler Johnson but couldn’t control the rebound. The puck dribbled out into the slot, a juicy chance for Point. But Rinne dropped his stick to sprawl in front of Point and caught the puck with his pads.

Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis batted the puck out of the air to be sure it stayed out.

Rinne allowed the Lightning on the board in the second period but also stood up as Tampa Bay dominated the period. He made 16 saves in that period alone.

“He’s an elite goalie,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “A lot of experience, too. That really helps his game. And he’s strong. He’s a really strong goalie.”

Slater Koekkoek scored for the Lightning, his first of the season. The defenseman, who has five goals in 79 games, sniped from the left circle over Rinne’s glove.

Mathieu Joseph wasn’t credited with an assist on the goal, but he played a big part in making it happen. Multiple times on the possession, Joseph kept the puck in the zone as the Predators pressured hard to clear.

The Lightning just couldn’t get another one.

“You have an all-star-caliber goalie who played an all-star-caliber game,” said Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had seven shots.

Predators 2-0-2–4

Lightning 0-1-0–1

First Period—1, Nashville, Turris 3 (Jarnkrok, Ekholm), 6:02. 2, Nashville, Josi 3 (Ellis, Johansen), 19:53. Penalties—Point, TB, (holding stick), 1:41.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Koekkoek 1 (Cirelli, Killorn), 14:21. Penalties—Ekholm, NSH, (tripping), 5:48.
Third Period—4, Nashville, Jarnkrok 3 (Johansen), 16:42. 5, Nashville, Salomaki 2 (Hartman, Turris), 17:36. Penalties—Josi, NSH, (cross checking), 4:30. Shots on Goal—Nashville 15-4-5—24. Tampa Bay 13-17-13—43. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—Nashville, Rinne 4-1-0 (43 shots-42 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 6-2-1 (23-20).