Gritty Panthers take a point from Lightning in season opener

Bolts power play dooms Cats in overtime.

The Florida Panthers began the Gerard Gallant era with a hard-fought 3-2 loss in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amelie Arena. The Lightning collected all three of their goals on the power play, putting the Cats' penalty kill in a familiar position to start the season.

Tampa Bay carried the play in the early going, outshooting the Cats 8-3 in the first period, but the Panthers battled through it and scored the game's first goal when Erik Gudbranson blasted a shot past Ben Bishop at 5:03 of the second frame. Newcomer Derek MacKenzie won a draw back to Dylan Olsen who fed Guds for the score.

The Lightning tied the game a couple of minutes later, with Tyler Johnson easily putting the puck past Roberto Luongo to complete a pretty passing play involving Valtteri Filppula and Anton Stralman.

Ryan Callahan scored at 7:17 of the third period to give the Lightning the lead. Callahan knocked in a rebound of a Filppula shot after Olsen (delay of game) joined Scottie Upshall (hooking) in the penalty box. Defenseman Victor Hedman picked up the second assist.

The Panthers struck back just a 1:59 later. Jonathan Huberdeau fired a quick shot off Bolts' defender Radko Gudas and was able regain control of the puck and put it past an out of position Bishop to even the game at two apiece. Brian Campbell and rookie Aaron Ekblad got the helpers on Huberdeau's goal.

Florida came close to scoring with time running out but Upshall ran Bishop and got sent to the box for goaltender interference at the end of regulation.

The Lightning took advantage of the ensuing power play with Hedman blowing a high wrister past Luongo 61 seconds in to the extra session after taking a long pass from Bishop while the Panthers were in the midst of changing.

While the officiating was a bit questionable (when isn't it?), the result was probably a fair one. The Panthers held their own and then some when the teams were 5-on-5. The Cats outscored Tampa Bay 2-0 and the shots were close with the Bolts holding a slim 21-19 advantage at even-strength. If losing a point is what it takes for the Cats to learn to play smarter and stay out of the penalty box, then so be it. The Lightning have a dangerous power play and the Panthers played with fire too many times and got burned in the end. Other than that, a very solid effort on the road and a well-deserved point was acquired. The Cats are off today before welcoming the New Jersey Devils to the BB&T Center for Saturday night's home opener.

Odds & Ends

  • Roberto Luongo had a strong outing, finishing with 29 saves on 32 shots. He made a nice save on former Panther Jason Garrison in the first period and denied Ondrej Palat on a breakaway in the second.
  • Have to give the goat horn's to Scottie Upshall in this one. Uppy was in the box for the last two Lightning goals. Sure, you can argue the call at the end of the game, but that was a pretty aggressive play that forced the officials into making a decision, never a good idea.
  • Speaking of Upshall, he took a pretty nasty elbow to the kisser from Radko Gudas. Somehow, none of the officials saw it and no call was made. That should have been a major penalty.
  • While the Lightning had seven power-play chances, the Cats had a couple of their own, resulting in just two shots and no goals.
  • First overall pick Aaron Ekblad acquitted himself quite well in his debut. In addition to his first NHL point, the rookie had two shots on goal, two blocks, and finished with a +1 rating in 19:05 TOI.
  • The Panthers one-two punch down the middle, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, failed to muster a single shot on goal.
  • Ben Bishop raised his record to 5-0 against Florida. The Bolts keeper made 19 saves and his heady stretch pass set up Victor Hedman's game-winner.
  • As expected, the Panthers scratched Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, and Colby Robak, Hopefully, it won't be too long before Pirri and Hayes are in the lineup. Pirri's dangerous shot is needed, as is Hayes' presence on the power play.
  • For the opposing view of last night's action, visit our friends at Raw Charge.