TAMPA, Fla. – Boosted by two Chris Gratton goals, the Tampa Bay Lightning closed out their three-game season-opening homestand with a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. With Gratton scoring twice against his former team, the Lightning improved to 3-0 as they prepare for their first roadtrip of the year.
With Tampa Bay and Florida facing off for the first of eight meetings this season, Gratton opened the scoring at 9:03 of the first period.
Skating up the left side of the ice with Gratton, Mathieu Darche fired a shot on Panthers netminder Craig Anderson. Anderson was unable to control the shot on the play, allowing Gratton to pick up the puck in the crease before shifting to the backhand. Gratton slid the shot off the goaltender’s left skate and into the net for his first goal of the season.
Although the Panthers out-shot the Lightning in the contest, 31-23, netminder Johan Holmqvist came up with some big stops including a sprawling save on Nathan Horton midway through the first period.
After Horton finished serving a two-minute minor for interference, he came out of the box to put one of Florida’s best chances of the night on Holmqvist. Gathering the puck off a pass in the offensive zone, Horton skated in for a breakaway on Holmqvist. Defenseman Paul Ranger got a stick on Horton as he took a shot and Holmqvist made a sprawling save to slide the puck inches outside of his right post.
Horton later picked off a pass in the defensive zone, turning back through the slot for a low point-blank shot on Holmqvist. The Lightning netminder got his arm on the puck for the save.
Towards the end of the frame, Holmqvist also denied 13-year NHL veteran Josef Stumpel on a Panthers power play. After Stumpel fired a wrist shot through traffic from the top of the left faceoff circle, Holmqvist grabbed the puck out of the air for the glove save.
The Lightning were not without their own breakaway chances in the opening period as Vincent Lecavalier was denied on two separate attempts. After Anderson swatted the puck away on a backhanded shot attempt at the top of the crease he held Lecavalier off the scoreboard at the final buzzer of the period.
Cutting into the offensive zone, Lecavalier burst towards Anderson after receiving an up-ice centering feed from Martin St. Louis. Lecavalier tried to put a deke on Anderson but the Panthers goalie came up with a right pad save.
Although the Lightning took a 1-0 lead into the middle frame, Ville Peltonen connected 4:04 into the second period to tie the game at one. With Peltonen positioned at the top of the crease Florida captain Olli Jokinen threw a shot to the front of the net. The puck deflected down off of the Panthers winger and bounced between Holmqvist’s legs for Peltonen’s first goal of the season.
Despite the score, the game would not remain tied for long as Gratton connected for his second of the night to reclaim the Lightning lead, 2-1
With Cory Murphy serving a penalty for hooking, defenseman Paul Ranger fired a slapshot from the left point. As Gratton positioned himself in front of Anderson, he tipped the shot down for the eventual game-winning goal.
“I don’t think it matters who it’s against, it’s always nice to chip in,” Gratton said. “Our line has got to help out with the offense a little bit here. They got a couple lucky breaks, but I thought it was a solid game by both teams.”
With only 17.3 seconds remaining in the second period Holmqvist made a tough glove save on the Panthers to keep the Lightning in the lead by one. With Brad Richards serving a penalty for tripping, defenseman Mike Van Ryn fired a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle through a screen of players. Holmqvist gloved the shot to send Tampa Bay into the third with a 2-1 lead.
As the teams went on to skate through a scoreless final period, Holmqvist opened the frame with a save on Peltonen. After Stumpel intercepted a pass out of the zone, he fired a shot on the Lightning netminder. Peltonen looked for a rebound shot, but Holmqvist covered the puck at the side of the net with help from defenseman Doug Janik.
“He made some big saves,” head coach John Tortorella said of Holmqvist. “Holmer [Holmqvist] was very good, and we ended up with some good chances, scored a power play goal… all three of the games, Holmer looks very confident and has played very well.”
Forward Mathieu Darche had one of the best scoring chances for the Lightning late in the contest after breaking up a pass along the Florida blue line. Breaking out of the zone and showing strong speed rushing down the left side, Darche moved in towards Anderson and fired a shot. Anderson controlled and covered the puck on the play to deny Darche his second point of the night.
With two goals in the contest, Gratton scored his first goal since returning to the Lightning this summer. His last goal in a Lightning uniform came against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 8, 2000.
The game against the Panthers marked the first time in three games that the line of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal was held off the scoreboard. Lecavalier led all Tampa Bay skaters with seven shots on goal in the contest.
With 30 saves in the contest, Holmqvist earned his third consecutive win of the season. The Lightning netminder has started all three games and improved to 2-1-1 all-time against the Panthers.
“I thought they played very well,” Tortorella said. “Holmqvist made some big saves for us and when the big line isn’t going, someone else kicked in. I thought [Gratton’s] line was probably our best line.”
The win marked the first victory the Lightning have posted when scoring less than three goals since a 1-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 8, 2006.
“As long as you win, that’s what matters,” Holmqvist said. “That was a low-scoring game, but it was good. We did a great job defensively.”
Following the three-game homestand Tampa Bay is ready to set out for their first roadtrip of the season. The two-game trip begins on Saturday, October 13 (7:00p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) against the Panthers at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida and concludes against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, October 18. The game marks the first of four meetings at Florida this season.
Backhand shot -
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
Wrist shot -
2 - 1 TBL
Mike Van Ryn
Holding the stick