The Tampa Bay Lightning have seemed to regain the same form that brought them all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The Bolts stormed back from a 3-1 deficit, made possible by a remarkable three-goal third period, to defeat the Florida Panthers, 5-3, in the second game of an exhibition home and home series at the BankAtlantic Center on Saturday night.
After dropping each of the first two preseason contests, Tampa Bay has now won two straight to even out its record in the exhibition season to 2-2-0.
“What a game,” Shannon said. “We really showed a lot of energy. It was awesome.”
The start of Saturday’s game closely resembled that of the night before at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay applied pressure early on in the Panthers’ own zone, owning six shots to Florida’s one to begin the contest. Before long, however, Florida had the advantage both in shots and on the scoreboard.
A pair of Panthers goals just 41 seconds apart gave Florida a two-goal lead just six minutes into the second period, setting the stage for what would be a trademarked Lightning comeback.
Kris Versteeg first connected on a slap shot past Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon, then set up the third Florida goal, which came off the stick of Tomas Kopecky at 5:40 to put the Panthers up 3-1.
What seemed like a one-sided affair though for Florida, quickly turned into just that, but in Tampa Bay’s favor.
With Erik Gudbranson in the box for boarding and the Bolts holding the man advantage, a beautiful tap-in on a redirected puck by Connolly found the back of the net to cut the deficit to one. Shannon, who notched two goals just the night before, threw one towards the crease that hit Connolly’s stick out in front with 9:33 left to give the Lightning prospect his first goal of the preseason.
“As coach Boucher said, it’s like night and day with his progress from last year,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said of Connolly. “He’s really using his size to his advantage and he’s got good speed too. He’s been able to get to the net and create plays in front. You do that and ultimately you’re going to get some goals.”
Shannon, signed as a free agent on July 7, now has two goals and two assists in the past two games for the Bolts.
Gudbranson would get into trouble once again, but unlike moments earlier that resulted in Connolly’s goal, Jose Theodore was there to bail him out.
With Carter Ashton skating hard down center ice in towards Theodore, Gudbranson got his stick under the forward’s skate to bring him down, resulting in a penalty shot. Ashton picked his spot and actually had the Panthers net minder beat, but his shot deflected off the crossbar to help Florida maintain the 3-2 lead.
Garon was then equally impressive for Tampa Bay, coming up with several big stops including several in a sequence to help kill off a Panthers five-on-three chance. At one point, Tampa Bay had killed off four consecutive shorthanded situations and went six-for-six on the penalty kill throughout the night.
Garon finished the night with 24 saves, but also allowed an additional goal to David Booth, who evened things up at one goal apiece just six minutes after Kubina put Tampa Bay up 1-0 early on after firing a shot past Theodore while on the power play at 1:29 of the first.
Pyatt notched the game-tying goal with 10 minutes remaining in regulation after redirecting a spectacular pass in front from Mattias Ritola.
The goal not only provided a spark, but instead lit a fuse.
Ritola and Teddy Purcell scored nine seconds apart to make it 5-3 with approximately five minutes left. Downie’s second assist of the night set up Ritola for the go-ahead tally before Purcell added an additional goal for insurance to cap the scoring and earn the Lightning a hard-fought, come-from-behind win.
“I understand this is a preseason game, but the way we came back and with the effort we showed, it felt just like the regular season,” Shannon added. “That’s the way we need to approach every game if we want to build on the success that some of the other guys in here enjoyed last season. It’s definitely exciting.”
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