Heading into the the final week of the preseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning sought to continue the positive momentum built up from back-to-back wins over Nashville. However, losing control of a third period lead wasn’t what they had in mind.
Owning a 2-0 lead over the Florida Panthers heading into the third period, the Lightning failed lost that lead, eventually falling 3-2 at Amalie Arena. In the first of three games this week against their in-state rivals, the Lightning saw two solid periods of work undone by a furious Panther rally over the final 20 minutes.
More concerning for the Lightning is Nikita Kucherov left the game after the first period and did not return. The team ruled him out for the remainder of the game with a lower body injury. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t speculate after the game on the nature of Kucherov’s injury, but added that precaution takes precedence in the preseason.
Tampa Bay gave plenty of ice time to youngsters such as Mathieu Joseph, Mitchell Stephens, Adam Erne, and Danick Martel. In addition, Slater Koekkoek and Erik Cernak also got extended looks throughout this game. However, veterans like Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Miller, Brayden Point, and Kucherov did their part, at least through the first two periods.
Although neither team found the back of the net early on, the line of Palat-Point-Kucherov made plenty of noise.
This trio found some chemistry throughout the opening 20 minutes, with Point in mid-season form. The speedy center generated three Grade-A chances, with Panthers goalie James Reimer stopping two of them and the other going wide. On one of those chances, Point dangled around the Panthers’ defense, drawing a tripping penalty on Aaron Ekblad. The third line of Joseph, Tony Cirelli, and Cory Conacher also impressed, with Joseph’s forecheck drawing another penalty.
Despite the Lightning’s power play failing on two opportunities, Kucherov and Stamkos each produced excellent chances. However, Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy came to the rescue during a dangerous shorthanded chance for Florida. Vincent Trocheck raced in on a breakaway, and taking a page from Kucherov’s book, tried his patented “shot that’s not a shot” move. Vasilevskiy, having probably seen that move countless times in practice, made the save.
Tampa Bay’s penalty kill also impressed, with Joseph, Stephens, and Martel seeing shorthanded ice time. The Lightning held a 12-6 lead in shots, but both goalies came up with impressive saves.
The second period saw a combination of youngsters and veterans put the Lightning on the scoreboard.
With Colton Sceviour in the box for high-sticking, Erne cashed in on the power play. Joseph took a pass from Miller and shifted down the left wing low into the faceoff circle. He then found a wide open Erne in the slot, who made no mistake in burying the shot past Reimer for a 1-0 lead at 4:17. During a 4-on-4 a couple of minutes later, Stamkos found himself alone in front. Unfortunately for him, Reimer made the save. Cernak also saw a golden opportunity ring off the iron a few seconds before.
Tampa Bay extended the lead to 2-0 at 10:15 when Stamkos led a rush, drawing a couple of Panthers to him. The Lightning captain then made a brilliant feed to Killorn, who flew down the left wing and beat Reimer to the short side for the goal. Miller earned his second assist of the night on Killorn’s first goal of the preseason.
Vasilevskiy came up with a huge pair of stops late in the period, first on Derek MacKenzie and then off another Panther shot during a crazy scramble in front of the Lightning’s crease. Tampa Bay continued to carry play at 5-on-5, owning a 23-16 shot advantage through 40 minutes.
The Lightning nearly extended their lead, but the Panthers would flip the script in the third period.
During a carryover power play for the Panthers, a Florida turnover led to a breakaway for Cirelli in the period’s opening minute. However, he couldn’t lift the puck high enough and Reimer made the save. The Panthers finally got on the board at 2:16 when a shot by Mark Pysyk got deflected by Evgenii Dadonov and past Vasilevskiy, cutting the Bolts’ lead to 2-1.
That goal served as a springboard for the Panthers, who began tilting the ice in their favor, forcing Vasilevskiy to make multiple saves. However, the Lightning still had a chance to extend their lead after an ill-advised interference penalty on Florida’s Alex Petrovic. Unfortunately for the Lightning, a lackadaisical effort with the man-advantage led to the Panthers tying it 2-2 with a shorthanded goal. A turnover by the Bolts led to the Cats taking control of the puck in the Tampa Bay zone. Sceviour fed Ekblad, who jumped up into the play, ripping a shot past Vasilevskiy at 7:03.
The Panthers took their first lead of the night at 7:29 when Dadonov collected a pass from Bjugstad. Dangling around Anton Stralman, he cut to the net. He then dished it to a trailing Aleksander Barkov, who wired it past Vasilevskiy for a 3-2 Florida lead.
Pulling Vasilevskiy late in the game, the Lightning mounted a late push in an attempt to knot the game up. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t hit the back of the net, dropping their preseason record to 2-3-0.
Tampa Bay returns to action on Thursday when they play the Panthers in a neutral site game at Orlando’s Amway Center. Puck drops at 7 pm, with the game being televised regionally on Fox Sports Sun.
-The Lightning outshot Florida 29-28.
-With the game’s first goal, Erne now holds the team lead for preseason goals with three.
-Joseph’s assist gives him three during the preseason, tops on the Lightning.
-Both Erne and Joseph lead the Lightning with four points during the first five games of the preseason.
-Panthers center Jared McCann left the game in the third period needing help off the ice, but would return before the game ended.
-Cernak, Point, and Stamkos each took a team-high four shots on goal.
-This was Martel’s first game in a Lightning uniform after being acquired from Philadelphia via waivers over the weekend.
-Lightning players not dressing for this game included Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn, Cedric Paquette, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Alexander Volkov
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Evgenii Dadonov – One goal and an assist on the game-winner.
2nd Star: Brayden Point – Didn’t register a point, but had multiple excellent chances and was everywhere for the Lightning
3rd Star: James Reimer – Kept the Panthers in it with 27 saves, allowing them to rally for the victory.
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