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Panthers comeback falls short in 5-3 loss to Lightning

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Brayden Point’s three-point night sparks Bolts

NHL: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers opened the 2017-18 campaign with a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Florida’s two NHL clubs will meet again tonight at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

After the Panthers had the better of the early chances, Ondrej Palat got loose on a bit of a broken play and slipped the puck between Roberto Luongo’s pads to put the Lightning on the board 6:33 into first period. The assists on the goal went to Brayden Point and Victor Hedman.

The Lightning went up by two when Brayden Point collected a blocked centering attempt and quickly beat Luongo from a sharp angle 25 seconds into the middle frame. Palat didn’t get an assist on the goal, but he did set up the play by lugging the puck up ice and bulling through Aaron Ekblad in the left corner.

Training camp standout Connor Brickley bagged the first Panthers goal of season at the 12:21 mark. Brickley went to the front of the net to receive Alex Petrovic’s sweet centering pass after the defenseman stepped up to claim the puck after Vincent Trocheck forced a turnover.

Mark Pysyk tied the game 5:26 later when he knocked in a backhand shot from close quarters after Radim Vrbata’s stuff attempt was denied by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vincent Trocheck picked up the secondary assist on the play.

Vladislav Namestnikov easily scored to cap off a pretty passing play involving Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn to give Tampa Bay the lead back. The power-play goal came 59 seconds into the third period, with new addition Jamie McGinn off for slashing.

NIkita Kucherov lit the lamp at 6:38 to give Tampa Bay its second two-goal lead of the game. After his initial shot was blocked, the puck eventually found its way back to Kicherov and he fired it though a scrum in the slot to notch the eventual game-winner.

The Panthers would not go quietly into the night. Florida’s new top line clicked with 5:30 left in regulation to cut the deficit back down to one. After an Aleksander Barkov faceoff win, Keith Yandle found Evengii Dadonov, who let go of a wrister that Jonathan Huerdeau deflected down and past a helpless Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy, who finished with 33 saves, came up with big stops late on Vrbata, Dadonov and Barkov before Palat delivered the dagger by beating Ekblad, who was trying to protect an empty-net, with 14 ticks left on the clock. Point picked up his third point of the night, and first star honors, with the lone assist on Palat’s second.

Despite the loss, there were definitely positives to take from this game. The Panthers looked fast and created lots of chances. Unfortunately, Luongo was outplayed by Vasilevskiy and the power play (0 for 4) sputtered, while the Bolts special teams produced the big goal from Namestnikov early in the third to go back ahead.

Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)

Shock & Awww

  • The Lightning are 16-7-0-2 in season openers, the best winning percentage in the NHL.
  • It was a tough night for Aaron Ekblad, who finished with a -2 rating in 21:31 TOI. Ekblad was lying on the ice during the first two Lightning goals after getting beaten by the speed of Ondrej Palat, and then Palat put the clinching goal by Ekblad, who failed his goalie audition.
  • Despite producing the late goal that got the Panthers back in it, Florida’s first line also had a rough go of it, with all three forwards finishing with -2 ratings. The trio combined for just six shots on goal. More is needed.
  • Roberto Luongo finished the game with 20 saves on 24 shots. He’s got to be better, too. Look for James Reimer to get the start in tonight’s rematch.
  • Steven Stamkos saw his first regular season action after missing the final 65 games of the 2016-17 season. In addition to his assist, Stamkos had two shots on Luongo and dished out three hits in 18:14 of ice time.
  • Nick Bjugstad and Jamie McGinn led the Cats in the shots on goal department with four apiece. Bjugstad was one of four Panthers to finish with a plus rating. Connor Brickley, Ian McCoshen, and Alex Petrovic were the others.
  • Stop by Raw Charge for a morning jolt and the other side of the season-opener for both teams.