Lightning aim to continue surge in Nashville

After a poor start to the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are beginning to look like the club that made it to the Eastern Conference finals last spring.

The Bolts will try to notch a fourth consecutive victory tonight when they visit the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Tampa Bay was a surprise success last season, coming within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals before dropping a decisive Game 7 in Boston a few months back. After winning its season opener this year, Tampa went on an 0-3-2 slide, but the Lightning have seemed to put that funk behind them by winning their last three outings.

The last two victories came in a home-and-home sweep of the Buffalo Sabres. The Lightning recorded a 3-0 win over the Sabres in Tampa on Saturday before edging Buffalo this Tuesday in western New York.

Ryan Malone scored the game-winning goal late in the third period and Mathieu Garon stopped 36 shots to lift the Bolts to a 4-3 decision at First Niagara Center.

Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Nate Thompson also lit the lamp for the Lightning, who are on their first three-game winning streak since rattling off five consecutive victories from March 26-April 3 of last season.

Garon has started every game on the winning streak, creating a possible goaltender controversy in Tampa. Dwayne Roloson was a big reason the Lightning made a deep playoff run last year, but the 42-year-old backstop is 1-2-1 with a dreadful 5.11 goals-against average in four starts this season.

It's unclear if head coach Guy Boucher will continue to go with the hot hand tonight or if Roloson will get his first start since allowing seven goals against Florida on Oct. 17.

In other news, the Lightning have decided to keep rookie winger Brett Connolly in the NHL rather than sending him back to his junior team in Prince George. The 19-year-old Connolly has two assists in nine games and his three-year, entry-level contract will begin as a result of him playing in his 10th contest tonight.

The Predators, meanwhile, began this year with two straight wins, but have gone 1-4-1 in their last six outings. Nashville suffered its most recent loss Tuesday against visiting San Jose. Sharks winger Joe Pavelski scored the go- ahead goal just 57 seconds after Craig Smith tied it, then added an empty- netter to seal the San Jose's 3-1 victory over the Preds.

While on the power play, Smith banged home his own rebound with 6:48 remaining in the third period for a 1-1 game. The Sharks quickly answered when Pavelski came out from behind the net and beat Pekka Rinne with a backhand.

"You work hard all game to get a goal ... and they score right away. It kills the momentum," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said.

Rinne, coming off a shutout at Calgary, finished with 33 saves.

Nashville, which is playing the middle portion of a three-game homestand tonight, has yet to win in three games (0-2-1) in the Music City this year.

Tampa Bay is 2-2-2 as the visiting team.

The Predators have won the last two meetings with the Lightning, who had won the previous four encounters. Tampa has three victories in its last five trips to Nashville.