ESTERO, Fl. - The Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov tallied the game-winning goal with less than a minute remaining in overtime for a 3-2 win Thursday night against the Florida Panthers at Germain Arena.
After leading the Cats by a 2-0 margin last time they faced each other, the Lightning found themselves in the opposite position tonight. Florida scored less than six minutes into the game on the power-play to take a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers extended their lead to 2-0 early in the second, again on the man-advantage, for their fourth power-play goal in two games against the Bolts this preseason.
Tampa Bay managed to tally a power-play goal of their own just before the midway point of the game to cut the lead by one.
The Lightning managed a shorthanded goal less than seven minutes into the final frame, forcing the overtime for the third time in six preseason games this year for Tampa Bay.
“Florida owned us a little bit in portions of the game tonight and it was great to see Ben Bishop have a really solid outing for us,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We gained momentum as the game went on and had a pretty good overtime.”
Going on the power-play at 4:21 of the first period, the Panthers capitalized on their first man-advantage opportunity of the game. Defenseman Tom Gilbert took a shot from the blue line, which was tipped in by forward Jonathan Huberdeau in front of Bishop’s net for the 1-0 lead.
The Panthers' trio of Huberdeau, Gilbert and Brian Campbell struck again less than five minutes into the middle stanza. After the Bolts' J.P. Cote was sent to the box for interference, Huberdeau tallied his second power-play goal of the game to increase the Panthers lead to two.
Tampa Bay returned the favor on the man-advantage at 8:32 of the second period when Kucherov passed the puck to Ondrej Palat behind the right side of Florida goaltender Tim Thomas’ net. Palat quickly fed a pass across the slot to Johnson who netted a goal on Thomas' stick side for a 2-1 score.
“There’s one thing to be said about chemistry and those three guys have it,” Cooper said. “I thought they gave us a huge boost tonight. Johnson was outstanding, Palat continued to make plays and Panik was a horse.”
“It’s kind of natural, we’re used to playing with each other and have good chemistry,” forward Richard Panik added. “We’re just playing with passion and I think it’s working.”
Thomas, who made his season debut in goal with Florida tonight after signing a contract earlier in the day, was swapped out for Jacob Markstrom shortly after the Johnson score. Thomas stopped nine of 10 Lightning shots.
With defenseman Eric Brewer in the penalty box the Lightning found a way to score shorthanded. Panik passed the puck to Martin St. Louis on a spin move, with St. Louis then faking the shot in front of Markstrom’s net. Instead of taking the shot, he quickly passed the puck back to Panik, who dumped it in the wide-open net for the 2-2 tie at 6:30.
“I knew I was good with Marty 2-on-1 and then I tried to fake a slapshot, but the defense didn’t buy it at all, so I just did a spin-around and got a lucky bounce on my stick,” Panik said.
Neither team was able to tally in the remainder of the final period and the teams went to overtime for the second time this preseason. Kucherov buried the game-winning goal for the Bolts with less than a minute remaining in the extra frame to propel the Bolts to their fifth preseason win in six games.
UP NEXT – The Lightning practice at Germain Arena tomorrow before wrapping-up their preseason slate on Saturday against Florida for the third and final time of exhibition play. Final roster cuts are expected to be made after Saturday’s game.