Recap: Panthers end preseason with 5-2 loss to Lightning

Balcers and Heponiemi light lamp for Cats

The Florida Panthers wrapped its preseason slate with a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday.

With the game tied 1-1, Vladislav Namestnikov went off for a natural hat trick, scoring twice in the first period, with the second goal coming on a power play, and again in the middle frame to put the Bolts up by three.

Namestnikov also had a hand in the game-opening goal, combining with Victor Hedman to set up Nikita Kucherov’s game-opening goal at the 3:51 mark. The goal came with prospect Logan Hutsko in the penalty box.

Rudolfs Blacers tied the score 1:24 later when he one-timed a pass from Michael Del Zotto by Andrei Vasilevskiy from the left circle. The second assist on the goal went to Radko Gudas.

Down 4-1, Aleksi Heponiemi took a pass from Anton Lundell and came out of the corner before popping a shot top shelf on Vasilevskiy at 8:45 of the second. A pretty goal from Heponiemi, who also scored in Thursday night’s game.

Brayden Point completed the scoring, from Ross Colton and Corey Perry, 4:56 into the third.

Spencer Knight got the start and went the distance in goal, finishing with 26 saves on 1 shots. Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced, including all 12 in the final stanza.

The Lightning struck twice on five power-play opportunities while the Cats went 0 for 1. Despite seeing loads of it the last couple of years, the Panthers still don’t have much of an answer for Tampa Bay’s power play.

Well, that’s it for the exhibition games. The Cats went  2-4 and looked every bit the team witha new coach and lots of new faces that will need to gel together quickly once the regular opens.

We’ll see if goals in back to back games earns Heponiemi a roster spot with the big club and if Eric Staal, whose been underwhelming in my opinion, earned a contract. Paul Maurice will have some other decisions to make to pare down the roster before Thursday’s season opener against the New York Islanders.