After opening the season with three losses in its first four games, Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher stressed that his team needed to play with more desperation to turn things around.
Although Saturday's result didn't prove any different, it was at least evident that the coach's message was received loud and clear.
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored twice and Mathieu Garon made 36 saves as the Tampa Bay Lightning fought back from two one-goal deficits, but fell to the Florida Panthers, 3-2, in a shootout Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center.
"We needed that desperation level to be up a little higher," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "We needed to earn it and so far this season we haven't done that."
Tampa Bay now has losses in four straight. Saturday's contest against its division rivals wrapped up a five-game, 10-day road trip to open the season, its longest of the year.
"We've been on the road a while and right now we're learning the hard way," Bergeron said. "It didn't turn out as well as we wanted, but it was a good way to solidify our team spirit."
Tampa Bay will get another chance at their in-state rivals two days from now, as the clubs meet again on Monday night for the Bolts' home-opener at the newly-renovated St. Pete Times Forum.
Ed Jovanovski and Kris Versteeg had goals in regulation for Florida, which rebounded from a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, and Jose Theodore finished the night by making 28 stops on 30 shots against.
Marcel Goc notched the game-winner in the tiebreaker, beating Garon with a deke and a backhander between the legs to end it.
"It was a tough game," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "It was definitely a rivalry game."
Jovanovski notched the game's first goal on the power play midway through the first. After Dominic Moore was sent off for goaltender interference, Jovanovski's center shot from the point found its way through traffic and beat Garon to put Florida up 1-0. The goal was the first with the man advantage allowed by Tampa Bay this season, snapping a streak in which the Bolts had killed off 21 consecutive opposing power-play chances.
At one point, Florida went on four consecutive power plays, in which eight of their first 14 shots of the game came while on the man advantage. As a result, Florida set a season high for shots in a period with 14 in the opening 20 minutes. The Panthers topped that with 15 in the second period.
"We gave them too much time," Lightning forward Tom Pyatt said. "They had a lot of time, a lot of space and they made the perfect shot to get that first one. It's tough to get into the game when you don't give yourself a chance because you're in the [penalty] box the whole period."
The slow start by Tampa Bay was soon forgotten thanks to some late-game heroics from Bergeron, who exemplified his coach's pre-game sentiments.
Following a sluggish 40 minutes in which Florida held a 29-16 shot advantage over Tampa Bay, Bergeron sparked his team's comeback when he evened things up at one goal apiece at 9:43 of the third. After faking a slap shot from the top of the point, the Bolts' defenseman drew back and lobbed a wrist shot to the net that beat Theodore high over the left shoulder.
He then struck again with 17:44 in regulation to force the game into overtime, just 39 seconds after Versteeg cashed in Florida's second power-play goal of the game to put the Panthers up 2-1.
"I think it was a desperate effort," Tampa Bay assistant coach Dan Lacroix said. "Guys were working hard. We just needed to find a better way to get pucks to the net."