Dale Tallon might want to start working on an extension for winger Mike Hoffman...
The 29-year-old is already up to four goals after he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy three times to power the Florida Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida’s home-opener at the BB&T Center last night.
After the two Sunshine State clubs played a scoreless first period, a hooking call on Mathieu Joseph opened the door for the Panthers and Hoffman took full advantage when he solved Vasilevskiy blocker-side at 9:39 after receiving a beautiful pass from Jonathan Huberdeau that found it’s way through three Lightning defenders. Keith Yandle picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
Huberdeau would set up Hoffman again 1:26 later on another power play to make it 2-0 Panthers. Yandle ripped a shot at the goal and Aleksander Barkov deflected it wide and the puck fortuitously caromed off the boards to Huberdeau, who found Hoffman alone in the right circle for a second time.
With the home crowd still roaring its approval, Noel Acciari came up with his first goal as Panther 1:27 later to put the Cats up by three. After forcing a turnover behind the net to Dryden Hunt, Acciari came around to the front to receive a pass from Colton Sceviour and showed off some silky mitt work before beating Vasilevskiy with a pretty backhand shot.
The Lightning would finally break through with 3:37 left in the frame, thanks to some good work from its checking line. Patrick Maroon was given to given too much space to work with and his shot caught Sergei Bobrovsky up high. The rebound fell to the ice where Luke Witkowski hacked it towards the goal and Gemel Smith tapped it into the empty net.
Hoffman completed his hat-trick seventeen seconds into the third when he deflected Aaron Ekblad’s low shot from right point by Vasilevskiy. Brett Connolly got the biscuit back up the boards to Ekblad to earn the second assist,
That goal would turn out to be huge because the Lightning struck twice later in the period to put the result in doubt.
Steven Stamkos blasted in a shot from the left circle at the 6:40 mark after taking Victor Hedman’s pass after Evgenii Dadonov turned the puck over in his own end. The secondary assist went to Hedman’s partner Kevin Shattenkirk. Bobrovsky committed to Hedman shooting and didn’t have a chance when the pass went over to Stamkos for the one-timer.
A few minutes later, Bobrovsky, who finished the game with 32 stops, would rise to the challenge, this time denying Nikita Kucherov’s one-time attempt from the right circle with a highlight reel glove save.
Joseph, who always seem to score against the Panthers, would cut the deficit down to one with 4:19 remaining in regulation when he completed a Tampa Bay rush by finishing off a little pass from Yanni Gourde with a backhander from the door step that Bobrovsky got a piece of, but couldn’t keep out. The Panthers needed to do a better job of covering here as Barkov and Yandle each went to Gourde, leaving Joseph wide open. Carter Verhaeghe streaked down the left side, putting the Cats on their heels, and centered to Gourde to register the second assist.
Fortunately, the Panthers were able to close it out and pick up a big two points on home ice, earning its first win against the Bolts in a almost two years. The Cats are still a work in progress, but ending its six-game losing streak to its powerful cross-state rival is a step in the right direction.