After winning a nail-biter at home, the Panthers traveled to Tampa Bay to face off against the Lightning in their home opener. The previous game was filled with some good action, but wasn't the highest scoring affair. Well, that wasn't the case with this game, as the Cats exploded for seven goals, five on the man advantage, and walked away with a solid road win by beating the Lightning by a score of 7-4. The Panthers looked like the better team nearly the entire game, and this game was a statement win to start their current road trip.
In case you missed it, I'll reiterate: five powerplay goals. Begin construction of the Craig Ramsay shrine post-haste.
The Panthers applied early pressure and the fourth line generated a powerplay with Ryan Carter drawing a call. New Panther Tomas Kopecky got his first goal as a Cat on the man advantage with a wicked-fast wrister that tipped off Eric Brewer's stick. Unfortunately, Tomas Fleischmann took a hooking call shortly after the goal, giving the Bolts their first powerplay. In between, however, Lightning forward Ryan Malone decided to lure Panthers rookie Erik Gudbranson into a fight, perhaps for retribution for Gudbranson's little victory over Steve Downie in the previous game. It was a pretty even match, and leads you to wonder if we're going to see this a lot with Gudbranson this season, or if he just made some friends on the Lightning squad. Downie was called for a 10-minute misconduct at the same time as the Flash penalty, though no explanation was given on the broadcast at first, so it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The Bolts evened it up on a goal by Teddy Purcell with four seconds left in the man advantage, though Brian Campbell should get credit as he accidentally tipped it in while fending off Brett Connolly from the net. Tampa Bay followed up with another powerplay as Kopecky got caught tripping, and the Cats were able to kill it off, but the constant pressure by the Tampa Bay forwards resulted in an even strength goal for big defenseman Victor Hedman off a scramble in front. The Cats then went on the man advantage due to a delay of game penalty on the Bolts, but weren't able to convert despite some decent pressure. The defense needs to work on generating better shooting lanes; they often forced shots into lanes that were clearly covered. Almost right after the delay of game penalty, the Panthers went right back on the powerplay thanks to a hooking call on Brewer. This time the Cats set up quickly and made it count, as Stephen Weiss ripped a short side slapper upstairs on Dwayne Roloson and evened it up 2-2. The Cats got a bit more pressure to close out the period, but were unable to convert. Thanks to all the special teams play, it was quite the exciting period.
Continuing the theme of the evening, the Lightning took an immediate tripping call, sending Martin St. Louis to the box and giving the Panthers yet another powerplay. The Cats took advantage as Weiss layed out a beautiful pass to Kris Versteeg, who scored his second powerplay goal of the season. The Panthers kept the pressure on, stifling the Bolts in the neutral zone and forcing them to dump and chase a bit. The ice then started to tip back and forth as both teams got plenty of chances and play evened out. Tampa Bay got some great chances but Jose Theodore played up to the task when called upon, with some great lateral saves as Tampa Bay moved the puck around well. The march to the box continued a little over halfway through the period as Dmitri Kulikov took a holding call. The Bolts had some great chances until Sean Bergenheim got a steal at the Cats blueline and took off, scoring his first goal of the season and the first shorty for the Panthers this year. Congrats to Sean; sick move as he got it forehand-to-backhand and roofed it. That's gotta feel good against the team that let him walk to free agency. Both teams kept battling until the Bolts got a nice bounce off a hard up-ice board pass from Marc-Andre Bergeron, hitting Vincent Lecavalier in stride and he took little time to roof the puck up over Theodore's shoulder for the third Lightning goal. Not too long after the goal, the Panthers went back on the man advantage as former Cat Dominic Moore slashed and broke Jack Skille's stick as he was crashing on a rebound. The Cats got some chances but were unable to score, but went into the third with a little under a minute left in the powerplay.
The Panthers started on the powerplay and ended it within about 20 seconds, as Fleischmann hits Versteeg who beats Roloson underneath the glove for the Cats' FOURTH powerplay goal of the game. That's right, you read it correctly. The Panthers used their speed well to keep the pressure up on the Lightning, pressuring their forwards as they carried into the Cats zone. Bergeron clanked one off the post around five minutes into the third, but the Lightning had trouble getting many quality chances after that as the Panthers tightened things up. The Cats got a few more decent chances but weren't able to convert, but drew a powerplay as Downie nailed Marcel Goc with a high stick with about 11 minutes left in the third. Scottie Upshall had a sweet redirection on net and David Booth had a great backhand chance alone in front, but Roloson was up to the task and the Bolts kill the penalty. They then made the Panthers pay, as Steven Stamkos scores off a beautiful feed by Matt Gilroy, cutting the Panthers lead to one. That goal invigorated the Lightning as they started to apply tons of pressure and put the Panthers back on their heels. The Cats started getting torched on faceoffs late in the third, and it caused a lot of issues in the defensive zone. We all are familiar with how the Panthers of old would wither under pressure while trying to preserve a third period lead, eventually giving up a game-tying or game-winning goal. Well folks, these aren't your old Panthers. Thanks to a great dump-in and forecheck by Versteeg and Fleischmann, Weiss scored his second of the game, putting the Cats back ahead by two and giving Theodore some cushion. The Bolts helped the Panthers out, with Pavel Kubina taking a tripping call shortly after the goal, giving the Panthers their seventh powerplay of the game. To add some salt to the wound, Brewer tried to knock a rebound away and fired it out of play, earning a delay of game penalty and granting the Panthers a 5-on-3. The Panthers promptly converted, with Jason Garrison getting his second of the year with a booming shot from the point. The Panthers kept stuffing the Tampa Bay rushes, and were granted their NINTH(!) powerplay of the game with 30 seconds to go, but didn't score and ended the game with a 7-4 victory.
- The Panthers never quit in this game. They never sat back to protect a lead, they never looked as though they ran out of gas. This team continues to show how different it is from previous incarnations, both in resiliency and skill. And boy is it exciting. Hats off to Dale Tallon and Mike Santos, as well as Cliff Viner.
- Tonight's showing on the powerplay was just electrifying. Kudos to Craig Ramsay and Kevin Dineen. It's clear you're both doing a great job. Hulton who?
- For being only 19 years old, Gudbranson is holding his own in the fights he's been in so far this season. When that kid fills out, he's gonna be downright scary.
- Purcell's goal was the first powerplay goal allowed by the Panthers this season.
- Skille needs to score soon. He's done everything but put one in the net, and his fantastic and consistent play so far this season is begging to be rewarded with a scoring tally. You da man, Jack.
- The Panthers top line of Weiss, Versteeg and Fleischmann produced nine points. That's a good night, especially because I have Weiss on my fantasy team. Steeger with 2G, 2A; Weiss with 2G, 2A; Campbell with 4A.
- Shawn Matthias is earning time on the PK and is really coming into his own this season. I wouldn't be surprised if he's moved up to the third line at some point. He looks fast, confident, and is using his size the way he needs to if he wants to be a respectable scorer in the NHL.
- Garrison has a cannon of a shot, and isn't afraid to shoot. He had several close calls and nearly potted a couple goals because of it. His blast on the 5-on-3 was just pretty.
- Let's all hope that David Booth starts scoring soon. The Panthers second line is very talented and both wingers (Booth and Scottie Upshall) can hit the twine. Methinks when Mike Santorelli returns to the lineup, that line is gonna heat up. That's no knock on Kopecky, who has been great so far, but Santorelli was a catalyst last year and fits the play style of that line better. If the Panthers can keep the first line rolling and get that second line scoring more, they are going to be a very deep team.
- He's personable. He's skilled. He scores goals while dreaming of singing to a crowded room. He's Kris Versteeg, folks. Say hello to a new fan favorite.
- Last, but not least by any stretch: Theodore has been fantastic for the Cats so far this year. His level of play has been great and he has made big saves when the team needs him to. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with his play, and if he can keep it up (and let Jacob Markstrom relieve him at times), the Panthers have a very underrated goaltending tandem this season. Great work by Theo.
Much more from our buddies at Raw Charge here. Join us Tuesday as the Cats travel to D.C to take on the undefeated Capitals. We'll have our Live Game Thread rolling at 6:30; check out additional superb coverage from our pals at Japers' Rink.