NASHVILLE – Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz had reasons to worry that his club might not be ready to face the speedy Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Predators were playing their second game in two nights and their third in four days. For the first 20 minutes Tuesday night, it appeared Trotz might be right. After shaking off a sluggish beginning, the Predators scored five times in the second period and went on to a 7-4 victory.
“I was worried about this being a trap game,” Trotz said. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start. A lot of credit goes to the whole group because when you play two games back-to-back sometimes it can be real taxing this time of the year.”
It was the most goals scored by the Predators in a game this season. They beat Ottawa 6-5 on Oct. 22.
“It was a little bit wide open,” Trotz said. “I thought both sides got some easy goals. The score was a little higher than we usually have.”
Trotz had also warned his team not to be caught off-guard by the Lightning’s quickness. That speed made a difference in the first period when Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead.
“One of the things I said in our meeting was to be aware and not surprised,” Trotz said. “They have great forwards. They are a quick team. Guys like Marty St. Louis have great speed, and Steve Stamkos is a great young player.
“When our legs weren’t moving in the first they looked real fast. We got our legs moving in the second and they didn’t look as fast.”
The Predators had points from 14 players. David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist each had a goal and an assist, and Joel Ward and Marcel Goc each had two assists.
“Everyone is a lot more upbeat,” Ward said. “We have more jump. We are getting more goals from different guys each night. We have to keep that ball rolling.”
Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and an assist to lead Tampa Bay.
Jerred Smithson gave Nashville a 1-0 lead 6:53 into the first period. Legwand’s wraparound shot was blocked, and Smithson gained control of the puck in traffic in the crease. He put a rebound past goalie Antero Niittymaki.
Stamkos tied it less than five minutes later when he skated by Shea Weber and then had the puck slip off his stick into the net. He got the puck between the pads of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne at 11:35.
Lecavalier struck on the power play with 3:30 left in the period to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. Foster passed the puck to Lecavalier just above the right circle for a slap shot that beat Rinne to his glove side.
The Predators scored twice in the first three minutes to go ahead. Legwand’s goal from in front at 1:12 tied it, and Ryan Jones put in a missed shot by Nick Spaling 1:45 later to make it 3-2.
Hornqvist’s goal at 12:22 prompted Lightning coach Rick Tocchet to pull Niittymaki and replace him with Mike Smith. But Smith didn’t fare any better as he allowed J.P. Dumont’s goal 28 seconds after he entered.
“I thought in the second we played hard,” Tocchet said. “It was a tough night for the goalies. We didn’t clear the front of the net, but I thought overall the guys really worked hard.
“The effort was hard. That is what I saw. I really enjoyed watching the effort. There were some goals there because we weren’t clearing the front of the net. I’m sure Smitty and Niitty wish they had a couple back.”
Dan Hamhuis capped off the second-period outburst with a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue-line with 3:51 remaining to put the Predators ahead 6-2.
Kurtis Foster cut the Lightning’s deficit to three goals 1:52 into the third period with a power-play tally. Lecavalier made it 6-4 at 12:20.
Nashville’s Martin Erat finished the scoring with 6:13 left.
“I give Tampa Bay a lot of credit,” Trotz said. “They have a lot of pride. They came back and really pushed the pace in the third period.
“Teams have to play hard for 60 minutes. You can’t defend like you used to do it. You can’t stack the blue line and hook and hold.”
NOTES: Jones has a goal in his last three games. … Niittymaki had allowed four goals in a game four times this season, and twice in three days. Dumont hadn’t scored since Nov. 28. … Spaling, in his first game since being recalled from Milwaukee of the AHL, earned his first assist and first career NHL point. … The Predators are 11-0 this season when Ward registers a point.