The raucous sellout crowd for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s home opener tonight stood in sharp contrast to the silent Lightning locker room after the Bolts stretched their winless streak to five (and two consecutive to the Florida Panthers) as penalties and special teams tripped Tampa Bay on the way to a 7-4 loss.
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The Lightning battled back several times to close the gap to one goal, but they could never come any closer as a steady stream of penalties kept the team off-balance and led to a parade to the penalty box which eventually spelled the Bolt’s downfall.
The enthusiastic crowd was into the game from the start, cheering each time a Lightning player touched the puck, but Panther forward Tomas Kopecky silenced them at the 6:15 mark when he collected the first of what would eventually top out at five power play goals.
Tampa Bay even briefly grabbed the lead when Victor Hedman blasted the puck past Panther goaltender Jose Theodore from the high slot for his first goal of the season.
The first period drew to a close at 2-2 when Stephen Weiss nailed his first of two goals on the night with less than 3 minutes remaining in the period. Weiss would eventually finish with 2 goals and 2 assists, as would Kris Versteeg.
Brian Campbell collected four assists for the Panthers.
Tampa Bay continued to battle back from each deficit, drawing within striking distance of the Panthers two separate times, following scores by Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Their goals were the 2nd of the season for both players.
But each time that the Lightning closed the scoring gap, the penalties would halt their momentum and throw the advantage back to the visitors. In all, Tampa Bay was whistled for 11 infractions for a total of 33 minutes of short-handed skating.
“We were undisciplined tonight,” Stamkos said. “We took too many penalties. It’s a big disappointment.”
Those short-handed situations turned to scores by the Panthers, more often than not. They converted on five of nine extra man chances and added a short-handed goal by former Lightning Sean Bergenheim.
Coach Guy Boucher shared the frustration of his team taking too many infractions.
“We lost this game on the penalty kill,” Boucher said. “We took way too many penalties. We scored four goals,” he continued. “That should be enough to win at home.”
But it wasn’t tonight, as the whistles disrupted the Lightning’s momentum all game.
On the plus side, the Lightning outshot the Panthers, 39-33. Martin St. Louis led all shooters with eight attempts.
The loss was the fifth in a row for the Lightning, but as Boucher pointed out, last season the team carried a record of seven wins, seven losses, before all the pieces began to jell.
“The thing we don’t want to do is panic,” Boucher said. “The reality is we have to get better now. We haven’t been able to quite get it all together yet.”
Getting it all together and turning it around – that’s job 1 for the Lightning now.