The Tampa Bay Lightning entered opening night last season with a huge chip on their shoulder. They had missed the playoffs by a single point and they used that as motivation to get off to the best start in team history. On Saturday night the Florida Panthers came into Amalie Arena with that same chip on their shoulder. They came up 1 point short of Columbus for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last year. The Panthers played like that early on. Every time they got the puck they seemed to end up with a good chance against Andrei Vasilevskiy. Jacob MacDonald scored on his team’s 4th shot of the game and they dominated the 1st period after that. The Lightning played much better in the 2nd period, but they couldn’t take advantage of the chances they had against Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.The Bolts came out in the 3rd on a mission to tie the game up, but early on they couldn’t muster any sustained momentum because of a rash of penalties. The Lightning were basically forced to play aggressively while down a man and it payed off. Tony Cirelli woke up an increasingly despondent Amalie Arena when his short-handed goal drew the Bolts even. That goal earned the Lightning at least a point as the game would head to overtime. Neither team could score in the extra 5 minutes and the extra point was decided by a penalty shootout. It was Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller who would come up big to get the Bolts the victory in the shootout and cap a 2-1 comeback victory.
The Bolts put a lot of good pressure on Roberto Luongo early, but they couldn’t muster any grade-A chances. Florida, however, took advantage of any time that they got in the Tampa Bay defensive zone. Andrei Vasilevskiy turned the 1st 3 shots away, but couldn’t do the same on the 4th. Jacob MacDonald got the Panthers on the board just shy of the 6 minute mark. That goal turned the momentum even more. Florida controlled the remainder of the period and while they couldn’t add another goal, they had a 16-4 shot advantage. The best line for the Bolts in the opening period was the 2nd line of Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, and Brayden Point. The chances were few and far between, but they came when that trio was on the ice.
The Lightning came out with more energy in the 2nd, but that momentum was halted fairly early because of a penalty. Cory Conacher got called for tripping around the 3-minute mark to put the Bolts PK unit on the ice for the 1st time this season. The penalty kill played well and the momentum shifted back towards Tampa Bay when Keith Yandle was sent off for his own offense in the closing seconds of the Conacher penalty. The Bolts had their best scoring chance of the game on that power play thanks to some good stick work from J.T. Miller, but Aaron Ekblad was right where he needed to be on Luongo’s backside to swat the puck away. Luongo took some hits in the period. The 1st came when he took a Kucherov shot off of the mask. The veteran went down, but would stay in the game. His leg was then fallen on by one of his teammates. This time he had to be helped off of the ice and was replaced by James Reimer. The Lightning got another chance at a power play late in the period, but Reimer was up to the task of maintaining the 1-goal advantage heading to the 3rd.
The Lightning had to start the final period of regulation down a man thanks to a late call on J.T. Miller. The Lightning killed that penalty and then got a power play chance of their own immediately after. Their own power play was cut short because of another Miller infraction. The Bolts killed off that short man advantage, but found themselves almost immediately back on the PK after Braydon Coburn was sent off for tripping. The work the team put in during the offseason on the penalty killed showed when they were successful yet again, but the rash of penalties prevented the Lightning from getting the offensive momentum that they needed. The penalties didn’t stop there. Cedric Paquette committed an ill-advised interference penalty just past the halfway mark of the frame. All of that stalled momentum was kickstarted by one play. Tony Cirelli had his own pass deflected back to him and was able to get it past Reimer to tie the game up on a short-handed goal. Alex Killorn had a great chance to win the game in the final seconds, but Reimer made the save to send the game into overtime.
The Bolts now will continue their season opening 5-game homestand later this week. They will welcome in a Western Conference foe in the Vancouver Canucks. Puck drop against Brock Boeser and company is scheduled for shortly after 7:30. Pregame coverage begins an hour prior up the dial on our sister station News Radio 970 WFLA.
1. FLA - Macdonald - (Trocheck, Huberdeau) - 5:58
1. TBL - SHG - Cirelli - (McDonagh) - 10:45
1. TBL - Conacher - (Tripping) - 3:08
2. FLA - Yandle - (Slashing) - 4:53
3. FLA - Trocheck - (High Sticking) - 15:15
4. TBL - Miller - (Slashing) - 19:05
1. FLA - Huberdeau - (Hooking) - 1:04
2. TBL - Miller - (Slashing) - 2:42
3. TBL - Coburn - (Tripping) - 5:53
4. TBL - Paquette - (Interference) - 10:25
SHOTS ON GOAL
Tampa Bay - 29
Florida - 43