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Big Team Win in Lightning Season Opener

Photo credit: Alex Walworth Scrum Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning opened their 2023-34 season as part of an Opening Day NHL tripleheader. Hosting Ryan McDonagh and the Nashville Predators, the Lightning were looking to start the new season with a victory. For the first time since the 2016 opener, Andrei Vasilevskiy will not be in net for Tampa. As most Lightning fans know, Vasilevskiy had to have surgery on his back shortly after training camp started. The team is looking for a return for him sometime in December at the earliest. The season opener always seems to have a high level of excitement. We all know the NHL season is a long 82 game six months long marathon. Game 1 doesn’t have any more significance as Game 24 or Game 63 or even Game 82. Make no mistake, after the first round playoff exit last season, the Lightning want to get this season started right.

New goalie, Jonas Johansson signed as a free agent last July has big pads to fill. In Vasilevskiy, he is filling in for one of the elite NHL netminders. If his play in the preseason is any indication, Johansson is ready. In three exhibition games, he was 2-0 with a 2.10 goals against and a 93% save percentage. Sure, it’s only preseason competition but his play earned him the start tonight. 

Season opener means something a little extra and the Lightning didn’t disappoint. Eight Tampa Bay Hall of Famers who were at the ceremonial puck drop included the following: Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff representing the Rays. Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber of the Buccaneers. Dick Vitale, Rick Peckham, Phil Esposito and Dave Andreychuk. Each one receiving thunderous ovations from the Amalie faithful. 

Opening Period on Opening Night

Early on, the Lightning were enjoying significant time in Nashville’s zone. At about the halfway point of the period, Nikita Kucherov scored his and the team’s first goal of the season. Assisted by Victor Hedman and Brayden Point.  A couple of minutes later with Tampa enjoying a 13 to 2 shot advantage, Nick Perbix was called for a high stick. This first penalty killing opportunity for the Lightning was a clinic. They ended with more zone time than the Predators and neither team got a shot off. 

Just as the Lightning killed off that penalty, the Predators committed their first penalty of the game. Now, we have a chance to see the Lightning Power Play. They couldn’t sustain quality zone time and ended their first chance with a man advantage without a shot on goal. As the first period came to an end, the Predators committed their second penalty. There were only 29 seconds remaining in the period and the Lightning failed to get anything going. First period ends with the Lightning atop the Predators 1 – 0. 

Long Change Period

The second period began with the Lightning having a minute and a half of power play. It didn’t matter. At best, so far, the power play is lackluster. The game went back and forth with Nashville showing more effort in the second than they did in the opening frame.

A couple of penalties by the Lightning gave the Predators a couple of chances to tie the game up. Not sure if it was the ineptitude of the Nashville power play or the brilliance of the Tampa penalty kill. Maybe a bit of both. In any case, the score remained 1 – 0 Tampa. 

As dominant in the shots and zone time the Lightning were in the first period, the Predators worked hard to even things up in the second. Ultimately, they accomplished just that. With less than four minutes left in the middle period, the Lightning were caught on a line change and Ryan O’Reilly skated right in front of Johansson and snapped a shot to tie the game at one. 

Battle for Two Points

In the first minute of the final period, Nashville fired the opening salvo. Scoring 11 seconds into the period, the visitors took a 2-1 lead and have outplayed their hosts since the start of the second. Jusso Parssinen gave Nashville the one goal lead with 19:49 left in the third. 

If the Lightning had any hope of pulling out an opening night win, they had to answer and answer fast. They did. After another Nashville penalty, the Lightning power play went to work. At the 2:25 mark of the third, Nick Paul banged in the tying goal. Assisted by Point and Steven Stamkos. It took the first 40 minutes of the game for both these teams to tally two total goals. With the game in the balance, both teams scored two total goals in the first two and half minutes of the third. Buckle up, people. 

About 30 seconds after Paul’s goal, former Lightning Luke Schenn was whistled for a hold on a breaking Brandon Hagel. Hagel was awarded the penalty shot and put it past Nashville goalie Juuse Saros. This made it 3-2 Lightning. This is still the score as the period approaches the halfway mark.  At about the nine minute mark of the period, Nashville’s Tommy Novak sniped a shot past Johansson to tie the game at three. 

This game is still going to go to which team wants it most. Though with four goals in half a period, identifying which team wants it more is still up in the air.  

Which Team Wins?

As the clock began to wind down in the third period, the Lightning went on another power play opportunity. On the first power play unit, Paul was in the power forward spot that had been filled by Alex Killorn the last few seasons. Boy, did he fill in nicely. Just after the halfway point of the period, he banged in his second goal of the night. His second power play goal of the game and season. Assisted by Point again and Mikhail Sergachev, this goal made it 4 – 3 Lightning. Now, all they have to do is hold off the impending pressure from the Predators. Sure enough, Nashville came hard. ‘

Working to get the tying goal and perhaps send the game into overtime, the visitors could not seem to get a clean shot off. Even when they did, Johansson was up to the task. Shift after shift until Nashville pulled Saros with just under two minutes left. Tampa’s team defense held firm. With two seconds remaining, Kucherov wristed his second goal into the empty net for the final 5 – 3 score. Game 1 was a total Lightning team win. 

Three Stars 

  1. Nick Paul – Two goals, one assist 
  2. Brayden Point – Three assists 
  3. Jonas Johansson – Saved 28 of 31 shots for a 90.3% save percentage

What’s Next 

Saturday night at 7:00 pm in Detroit against the improved Red Wings. 


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