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Predators, Lightning expecting a tight contest

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning are discovering that playing more than 60 minutes is a way of life in the NHL’s Central Division.

For the first time this season, the two division opponents will meet Saturday night on Florida’s west coast, and they know there’s a good likelihood overtime or the shootout may have to decide the winner.

Over a stretch of six straight games in the division from Tuesday through Thursday, every contest was either settled in overtime or a shootout — all three-point contests. The streak was snapped Thursday in the division’s final game of the night when the Stars beat Detroit 7-3 in Dallas.

The Predators hosted Chicago in back-to-back tilts Tuesday and Wednesday, and the results — both requiring extra time — were good for Nashville over their former Western Conference foe.

In Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory, captain Roman Josi tallied to put away the Blackhawks, helping Nashville cast aside the bad memories from a tough two-game stint in Texas.

Dallas blasted the Predators 7-0 in its first hockey game this season last Friday after a delayed start due to COVID-19 protocol. The score was more competitive two days later — a 3-2 loss in regulation to the Stars — but the damage had been done.

Nashville returned home with little to show for the effort and struggling with a penalty-kill unit that allowed five power-play goals in the blowout loss and three more in the one-goal defeat.

In the two games, the Stars tied an NHL record for most power-play goals over a two-game span, succeeding on 8 of 12 chances.

“That’s not who we are as a team, and that was unacceptable,” said Nick Cousins, who scored his first goal in a Nashville uniform in Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout win. “Coming back home was kind of a chance to reset and play Chicago back-to-back.”

Matt Duchene registered the only tally in the shootout, and goalie Juuse Saros was rock solid in denying Chicago’s shooters anything in the one-on-one session that gave Nashville its second straight victory and some momentum heading to Florida.

The Predators will also play Monday in Tampa before traveling south to face the Florida Panthers in back-to-back matches on Thursday and Friday.

After an unexpected four-day break due to Carolina’s COVID-19 concerns, Tampa Bay returned to play Thursday and lost 1-0 to the Hurricanes on Martin Necas’ marker 1:12 into overtime.

Petr Mrazek’s 32-save shutout — the Hurricanes’ first game action in 10 days — marked the first time Tampa Bay had been held scoreless in 88 consecutive regular-season contests.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the way the Central is set up will create plenty of close competition, perhaps needing extra time to determine a winner on most nights.

“We were talking about that last night — all these three-point games,” said Cooper. “There’s a lot of defense in our division. It’s going to be tough to score (against) all these teams.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more games go to overtime than probably in a lot of these other divisions.”

Starting his 31st straight game dating back to the 2019-20 regular season, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded 35 saves, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from losing to Carolina for the first time in eight career games (7-0-1).

(Field Level Media)

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