For the second straight season, the Florida Panthers opened their campaign with a road loss against their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Saturday night, the Panthers will get a chance to avenge their 5-2 defeat when they host the Lightning in their home opener.
Thursday’s game marked the Panthers debut for three-time Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million contract in July as the best-paid goalie on the 2019 free-agent market.
The Panthers tied the score at 2 with 8:49 expired in the third period on a short-handed, breakaway goal by Vincent Trocheck, who was an All-Star in 2017 but was injured for much of last season.
After Trocheck’s goal, however, the Lightning took over, and that left a bitter taste for Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Barkov said. “We had the game in our hands.”
Tampa Bay turned the tide on Ondrej Palat’s go-ahead power-play goal with 9:34 gone in the third period, taking a 3-2 lead they did not relinquish.
The Lightning also did a good job of shutting down Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau, holding the members of Florida’s top line without a point. Dadonov, though, did have a game-high seven shots on goal.
“To keep that line off the scoreboard the whole night was outstanding,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Cooper credited his line of center Anthony Cirelli and wingers Alex Killorn and Palat for their fine defensive work against Florida’s top unit.
“It was only fitting that Palat got the go-ahead goal,” Cooper said. “I thought he deserved it.”
Among the bright spots for the Panthers on Thursday were the performances of Trocheck, Mike Hoffman and Brett Connolly.
Trocheck had one goal and an assist. Hoffman, who had a career-high 36 goals last season, found the back of the net on Thursday. And Connolly, who won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 and scored 22 goals last season, provided an assist in his Panthers debut.
Meanwhile, former New York Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk and ex-St. Louis Blues forward Pat Maroon each scored a goal in their Lightning debut. Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev added three assists.
“There was a lot of the game I liked,” Cooper said. “Can we do better as a team? There’s no question. It was just game one.”
Game two figures to feature another matchup between perhaps the two top goalies in the NHL: Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the Vezina Trophy last season and made 35 stops on Thursday.
Bobrovsky, who made 25 saves on Thursday, led the Columbus Blue Jackets to a stunning first-round series upset over the Lightning last season, something Tampa Bay fans won’t forget for a while.
Saturday’s game will also feature the home debut for Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman, who played for Tampa Bay the past five seasons. The Lightning honored Stralman during Thursday’s game by playing a video of some of his Lightning highlights.
–Field Level Media