Hard skating and a gritty comeback; aggressive forechecking and lots of shots on net; The Tampa Bay Lightning provided all that and more to the 16,176 fans in attendance at the St. Pete Times Forum tonight. The only thing they couldn’t provide was the victory as the Lightning fell to the Florida Panthers in a shootout, 4-3.
Early in the first period, Tampa Bay gave a hint of what sort of evening it might be when they generated the first six shots on goal in the contest, all within 1:40 of the start of the game.
Florida regained some footing and got on the board first when Bryan McCabe scored on a blast from the high slot that threaded through the traffic and passed Lightning goaltender Mike Smith, at the 7:50 mark of the period.
The barrage of shots on Panther netminder Tomas Vokoun continued, however, until penalties slowed the Lightning when the Panthers could not. Tampa Bay was whistled for three infractions in the stanza and Florida eventually converted while Paul Ranger was off for tripping. David Booth got the power play goal for the Panthers just 17 seconds before the period ended.
Although they skated off the ice down 2-0, the Lightning had generated 16 shots on the Panther net, and they were just warming up.
Penalty troubles found the Lightning again in the second period when Steve Eminger was called for hooking at 6:35. McCabe dug the hole deeper for Tampa Bay when he again converted the extra man opportunity for his second goal of the night to increase the Panther lead to 3-0.
Still, the Lightning shots on Vokoun kept on coming. In addition to the 16 shots on net in period one, the Lightning added 21 more in period two. Finally, one shot eluded Vokoun and the Lightning broke into the scoring column at 14:42 of the second when Radim Vrbata netted his first goal of the season, with assists from Eminger and Steven Stamkos.
The late goal energized Tampa Bay and they controlled the play for much of the remainder of the period. When the horn sounded to end the second period, the score stood at 3-1 in favor of Florida, but the shot total was 37 -21 with the Bolts holding the advantage. At that point of the contest, Steven Stamkos alone had produced eight shots on goal, double his best previous total for an entire game.
Early in the third period, Evgeny Artyukhin rolled through the slot, took a pass from Vincent Lecavalier and buried the puck in the Panther net to cut the deficit to one goal. Eminger also picked up an assist on the score, which came with only 3:44 gone in the third stanza.
The Lightning kept shooting and Vokoun continued to rise to the challenge until Eminger collecting his third point of the game and first goal of the season, tied the contest at 3-3 with only 2:51 remaining in regulation.
Then it was on to what has seemed to become the obligatory 4 on 4 five minute overtime period. So far this season, eight games played in the St. Pete Times Forum have resulted in six extra stanzas.
Although both squads had good scoring chances, Smith and Vokoun held their ground and there was no score.
At the conclusion of overtime, the shot board showed 52 for the Lightning, a new franchise record in that department which bettered the previous mark of 51, also set against the Florida Panthers in 2004.
When Lecavalier, Jussi Jokinen and Martin St. Louis all missed their shootout attempts, Nathan Horton turned a backhand shot over Smith into the game winner.
Smith ended the game with 33 saves on 36 shots, while Tomas Vokoun turned aside 49 of the 52 shots he faced. Steven Stamkos had nine shots to lead the Lightning, also a season high for a member of the Lightning.
When it was over, the Lightning took their one point and also took some positives from the effort.
“Anytime in the NHL you score three goals and come back, that’s a positive,” Interim Coach Rick Tocchet said. “No question, the intensity was there.”