SUNRISE, Fl. – The Tampa Bay Lightning fell, 5-3, to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center Saturday night, ending the preseason with a 5-2-0 record. The loss was the first against their division rival during the preseason.
The Lightning took momentum early in the contest and tallied two goals in the first eight minutes of play for a 2-0 advantage.
Soon after the Panthers created a little energy of their own, scoring three unanswered goals through two. The first came 11 minutes into the opening period.
“We had a really good first period, and then we saw a really bad second two, so that was a little bit troubling,” head coach Jon cooper said.
Florida continued to challenge the Bolts’ penalty-kill early in the middle stanza tying the game 2-2 with their fifth power-play goal in three exhibition games against Tampa Bay. The Panthers took a 3-2 lead four minutes later, but eventually found themselves tied with the Bolts early in the third.
Florida went ahead, 4-3, with 8:30 left in the game and finalized the victory with an empty-netter in the last minute of play for a 5-3 score.
“We were down and then we came back and tied it,” Cooper said. “Some of these games we played with fire, but you can only come back so many times and this time we didn’t.”
Forwards Steven Stamkos and Brett Connolly both added their team-leading fourth goals of the preseason. Martin St. Louis and Stamkos also combined for four points (two goals, two assists) in the loss.
The Lightning played one of their best periods thus far in the first, dominating puck possession and outshooting the Panthers 11-6 by the frame’s end. Breaking the silence 3:45 into the game, Stamkos found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with assists from fellow top-liners, St. Louis and Jonathan Drouin.
Four minutes later Connolly added a goal to increase Tampa Bay’s lead to two. Eluding a check down the right wing, Connolly grabbed the puck and threw a sharp-angled shot on net that made it by newly-singed Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas at 7:41. The goal was part of six unanswered shots and two-straight tallies for the Bolts.
Reaching the midway point of the first period, the Panthers broke the silence. Florida forward Brad Boyes potted a goal up close with help from Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov for a 2-1 score at 11:33.
In the second stanza the Panthers continued their success on the man-advantage versus the Lightning this preseason. They tied the game a 2-2 a minute into the middle frame when Florida’s Scott Gomez slipped the puck in stick side on netminder Anders Lindback. The Panthers then took their first lead when Jesse Winchester tucked the puck under Lindback’s legs at 5:25 to go ahead 3-2.
At the end of the second the Bolts’ penalty kill was put to the test once more after Richard Panik received a five-minute major for boarding on a hit from behind to Erik Gudbranson. Panik and Winchester both took match penalties for roughing in addition to the major.
“With the Panik penalty we probably lost a little bit of momentum,” Cooper said. “Agree or not with the call, it was called, but I thought that was a positive because we killed-off five-straight minutes.”
Tampa Bay not only killed-off Florida’s five-minute power-play in the third, but they tied the game. Seconds after the call expired Marty St. Louis evened the score at 2:02.
Florida re-gained the lead for the second and final time in the game with less than nine minutes remaining, as Kris Versteeg cemented the win for the Panthers. First he parked himself in front of Lindback’s net and scored on a lucky bounce for a 4-3 advantage at 8:38 and then netted the empty net goal in the final minute of play.
UP NEXT – The Lightning are expected to make final roster cuts on Sunday, reducing their roster by more than a dozen players. Tampa Bay will also name their new captain on October 1, before opening the season on October 3 in Boston against the Bruins. In addition the three-game road trip features the Chicago Blackhawks and the Buffalo Sabres.