|Bonino heating up as Preds host Lightning|
In helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win consecutive Stanley Cups, Nick Bonino carved out a niche as a defensive-minded center who could chip in some offense.
After a slow start caused in part by injuries, Bonino has given his new team, the Nashville Predators, the same kind of play. And given a chance to play with one of the team's top snipers in Kevin Fiala Saturday night, Bonino filled the scoresheet.
He scored a goal and added two assists in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers, Nashville's fifth consecutive win. The new-look line of Bonino, Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok will get another chance to light the lamp Tuesday night in a marquee matchup with the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in Bridgestone Arena.
"I've been waiting for a game like this for a while," Bonino said Saturday night. "I think a lot of the times I'm passing, and it just hasn't gone in the net. It gets frustrating, but as long as I'm winning faceoffs, blocking shots and contributing in other areas, you can't get too down on yourself.
"And tonight, obviously, it's nice to see the puck go in a few times."
Bonino's line accounted for the first three goals. Fiala scored twice and Jarnkrok collected three assists as the Predators (28-11-6) won their fifth straight game and moved to 4-0-0 on their season-long five-game homestand.
Tampa Bay (32-12-3) is coming off a 2-0 win Monday night at Chicago that allowed it to surpass the Vegas Golden Knights as the top team in the NHL.
The victory couldn't have happened at a better time for the Lightning, who were enduring their first prolonged slump of the season. It snapped a three-game losing streak and was just their third win in eight games.
Tampa Bay leaned on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to play the role of slump-buster. He came up with 40 saves and helped the Lightning kill six power plays en route to his league-high seventh shutout of the season.
"You can see early on he was in the groove," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of Vasilevskiy.
But Vasilevskiy might not be the Predators' problem in this one, since this is a back-to-back for the Lightning. Cooper could opt for former Arizona goalie Louis Domingue, who won his only start with Tampa Bay on Jan. 7, making 34 saves in a 5-2 win at Detroit.
Nashville is expected to counter with Pekka Rinne (23-8-3, 2.42 goals-against average, .925 save percentage), who has won his last four starts. That includes Saturday night, when he came up with 37 saves against Florida despite allowing a goal from just inside the red line in the third period by Keith Yandle.
That victory upped the Predators' home record to 16-4-2, including five in a row. The last four have been one-goal decisions.
"We just want to continue to focus on the process," said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. "There are no excuses for us not to come out with the right effort, and I feel like we have done that every game at home."