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The Tampa Bay Lightning proved Tuesday night that the team’s resilient theme from a year ago is carrying over into this season.
Amidst a back and forth scoring battle, the Lightning fought back from three one-goal deficits, but in the end fell to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in the second game of a home and home series in the first-ever NHL game played at the Amway Center in Orlando.
St. Louis, meanwhile, improved to 2-0-0 in the exhibition season.
Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher, as well as numerous Lightning players, praised what felt like a home crowd of 11,688 at the Amway Center, admitting that the enthusiasm of the fans was a pleasant sight to see despite being about an hour from home.
“It’s a beautiful place to play hockey. I never thought I would have played hockey across the street from Walt Disney,” Bergeron said. “I’m glad that we did it. I’m sure people down here loved it and we also did. It was our first time on the ice here, so it was obviously harder on us, but we still can come back here if they want us.”
Tampa Bay created a number of solid scoring chances early on.
Steven Stamkos nearly broke the scoreless deadlock with a tip-in from the low slot that sailed wide of the net. Much like in the first contest of the home and home series, the Bolts failed to capitalize on an early power play. With Blues forward Stefan Della Rovere off for a roughing call, Vincent Lecavalier came close to giving Tampa Bay an early lead, but his attempt to redirect a pass from Teddy Purcell in front of the net was guided away by St. Louis goaltender Ben Bishop to keep the score tied at 0-0.
“We did some good things,” Bergeron said. “It’s our first game of the year, so we have to build and get our conditioning up and get better.”
Things got even more difficult for the Bolts after Mattias Ohlund was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for elbowing, leaving the Lightning to play the better majority of the game a man down.
St. Louis capitalized on the advantage, as Nikita Nikitin put the first goal on the board to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. The St. Louis defenseman sent a shot through traffic and past the pad of Dwayne Roloson for a one-goal advantage at 15:22.
Roloson stopped eight of nine shots on the night and gave way to Jaroslav Janus midway through the contest.
Janus, however, did not provide as sturdy of a presence in net, yielding three goals to Ian Cole, Chris Stewart and Adam Cracknell.
Despite a dormant power play, Bergeron evened things up with the man advantage towards the end of the second period with a booming slap shot. He set up at the top of the right circle and took a pass from Bruno Gervais before one-timing it past Bishop to make it 1-1.
Cole then helped St. Louis regain the advantage, again on the power play, just 1:23 after Michel Ouellet went off for slashing to take a 2-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
Conacher brought the Bolts back even at 8:13 of the final frame by finishing off an odd-man rush with Brett Connolly, but Stewart put the Blues back up by one just 1:50 later.
Still, Conacher’s goal highlighted much of what has impressed the Tampa Bay coaching staff in the previous days at the team’s training camp.
“I was happy to see him get rewarded,” Boucher said. “He’s been fighting every day in camp and I think he’s making it evident that he wants to be here.”
Despite the back and forth scoring which continued to shift the momentum in the Blues’ favor, Tampa Bay did not go quietly.
Brewer tied the game at three with approximately four minutes remaining, but the lead did not last long. A giveaway by Lightning defenseman Bruno Gervais behind the Tampa Bay net led to St. Louis responding with another go-ahead goal, as Cracknell roofed one above the glove of Janus at 17:40 to cap the scoring at 4-3.
“I think everybody’s got in their minds what we were at the end of the year and that’s not where we’re going to be to start the year,” Boucher added. “That’s unrealistic to think that. It’s going to be a long process, just like it was last year and we don’t want to waste anymore time. Today was just one more step towards that process.”