Before the first of three meetings – two preseason, one regular season – with the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he wasn’t concerned about the outcome of the first two games as long as the Bolts were victorious in the third.
The Lightning went ahead and won all three anyway.
After beating Florida by a combined 7-1 in two preseason contests, Tampa Bay was better again when it counted, scoring a 3-2 overtime victory over the Panthers in the season opener for both teams in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena.
Victor Hedman had the game-winner 1:11 into overtime. With Tampa Bay on a 4-on-3 advantage to start the extra period, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop caught the Panthers in a line change and passed to the blue line for Hedman, who, alone on goal, wristed a shot past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo to cap a thrilling, back-and-forth game.
“They changed, and I was hoping to catch them on an odd-man rush,” Bishop said. “I didn’t think it would be a 4-on-0."
Bishop stopped 19 shots in his first game since injuring his elbow April 8, 2014.
“I thought he was in command of his game,” Cooper said. “…He didn’t see a ton of action, but he was there, especially on our PK.”
Ryan Callahan broke a 1-1 deadlock with 12:43 remaining in the game, scoring on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Lightning. From the right face-off circle, Valtteri Filppula shot toward the Florida goal. Luongo made the initial save, but Callahan was waiting alone on the back post to tap home the rebound.
The assist was Filppula’s second of the game. Hedman also assisted on the goal, which gave the Lightning a 2-1 advantage in the third period.
“There was not a lot of room out there,” Filppula said. “It was a tough game, and it was nice to get a win.”
Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau leveled the score two minutes later, working through a scrum in front of the net to send a loose puck past Bishop.
Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad, playing his first NHL game, were given assists.
“Give Florida credit. They played us hard,” Cooper said. “They’re hard to play against, and they’ve got an all-star goalie back there that makes saves for them.”
Florida scored the game’s first goal in the second period, Erik Gudbranson ripping a shot through traffic from the point that eluded Bishop. Dylan Olsen and Derek MacKenzie assisted on the goal, which came 5:03 into the second.
Tyler Johnson answered with the first goal of the season for the Lightning at 7:12 of the second period to tie the game 1-1. After Sean Bergenheim was whistled for interference and sent to the penalty box, the Lightning took advantage of the power-play opportunity. Anton Stralman passed along the blue line to Filppula, who faked a shot and sent a cross-ice pass to Johnson near the back post. Johnson, who scored 24 goals last year in his rookie season and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, redirected the puck past Luongo (29 saves).
“The boys gamed it out,” Cooper said. “It’s one-goal games, you have to win them and especially you have to win them at home, and they did tonight.”
Tampa Bay’s special teams were spectacular Thursday. The Bolts scored on 3-of-7 power-play opportunities and killed off both of Florida’s power plays.
“Our special teams were up to the task today because 5-on-5, we didn’t muster much,” Cooper said.
The Lightning (1-0-0, 2 points) outshot the Panthers (0-0-1, 1 point) 32-to-21.
“We didn’t play to our best tonight, but first games are always a little tougher,” Hedman said. “I was happy to get it out of the way and obviously very happy with the two points.”
The Lightning have now won five straight over Florida in the regular season after sweeping the Panthers a year ago.
Tampa Bay returns to Amalie Arena Saturday, October 11, for game No. 2 of the regular season against the Ottawa Senators.