Lightning beat Panthers in opener
TAMPA, Fla. — As season openers go, it was a wobbly win, but Steven Stamkos will take it.
“It wasn’t our best effort by far, but these wins mean a lot,” Stamkos said after the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night at Amalie Arena. “We talk about how important it was to get points, and there were spurts where we didn’t play very well, but we took advantage of a big power play to start the third, got the lead and held onto it.”
The Lightning lost a two-goal lead in the second period, then pulled away with a pair in the third, holding on late after the Panthers again got within a goal.
The Lightning got third-period goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov, each beating Roberto Luongo in the first seven minutes of the period. The Panthers tied the game with their own two-goal flurry late in the second before Tampa Bay struck in the third.
“Kind of a theme of our whole preseason was we got better as the game went on,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The power play came up big when it needed to to start the third, and it took a little weight off our shoulders.”
Florida pulled within a goal with 5:30 left when Jonathan Huberdeau redirected an Evgenii Dadonov shot in front of the net to make it a 4-3 game. Florida had a power play with 3:11 left, but couldn’t convert. Tampa Bay added an empty-net goal from Ondrej Palat — his second goal of the game — with 13 seconds left.
“We did a lot of good things, had a lot of good opportunities, a lot of good shots on net,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “One of those things where we weren’t able to find the one or two we needed, but I like the way we played, liked the way we competed. It was a good step. You can’t win all of them, but we take a lot of good things from this game.”
The two teams continue their cross-state rivalry Saturday with a rematch in Sunrise, Fla., as part of a home-and-home series on the opening weekend. Tampa Bay won after losing all three preseason games against the Panthers.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, making his first Opening Night start, had 33 saves, including three on the final power play, in earning the win.
The Lightning took the lead back in the opening minute of the third with a power-play goal by Namestnikov. Alex Killorn passed wide to Stamkos, who fired a pass past Luongo that Namestnikov fired into the empty net from the far side.
Tampa Bay cushioned its lead when Kucherov took a loose puck in front of the net and fired it in for his first goal with 13:22 left in the third.
Down 2-0 late in the second, Florida took advantage of a Kucherov turnover in his own zone to pull within a goal. Defenseman Alex Petrovic came in wide, waited to pass sliding Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi to feed a pass to Connor Brickley in front of the net for his first goal with 7:39 left in the period.
Florida tied the game with 2:13 left in the second, as Mark Pysyk scored on a rebound to beat Vasilevskiy.
“My message after the game was if we play like that, we’re going to win our fair share of games,” said first-year coach Bob Boughner said. “I wasn’t unhappy with the effort. Sometimes the execution has to get better, but we had a lot of chances.”
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead as left winger Palat fired a shot through the legs of Luongo with 13:27 left in the first. Tampa Bay struck again, just 25 seconds into the second period, as Brayden Point scored for a 2-0 lead.
NOTES: The Lightning, carrying eight defensemen, made Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin their scratches Friday, allowing 19-year-old Mikhail Sergachev to make his NHL debut. ... RW J.T. Brown was also a healthy scratch ... The Panthers’ scratches were RW Owen Tippett, C Denis Malgin and D MacKenzie Weegar.