Halloween Eve at BB&T Center gave visiting Tampa Bay Lightning fans a treat when they beat their cross-state rival Florida Panthers 8-5. Fairly sharp passing, a shooting mentality, and timely scoring all played a role in Tampa Bay’s 10th victory of the season.
Florida is a fast team, with a top line of Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadanov that is equal to that of the Lightning. The key was to make them chase. When they were doing that, they found it hard to get into a rhythm offensively. That played into Tampa Bay’s hands, because they have the ability to strike quickly and in bunches. Through 13 games, that has proven to be a true statement.
The Lightning came out of the gate ready to play. Using good puck retrieval and an attacking mentality, they took it to the Panthers early on. That resulted in the game’s first goal, with Brayden Point tipping the puck past James Reimer. Not long after, captain Steven Stamkos got his stick in the way of a clearing attempt by the Panthers and fed a wide open Nikita Kucherov (Is he really that slick or does Florida have issues defensively?) who made it 2-0 before five minutes had passed.
With a quick strike attack of their own, the Panthers began to generate some offense of their own. Aaron Ekblad’s shot from the point beat Andrei Vasilevskiy short side to make it 2-1. That didn’t faze the Lightning, who regained their two goal cushion thanks to another power play goal by Stamkos.
Unfortunately, the Lightning seemed to think that Stamkos’ tally ended the first period. By checking out mentally, they gave the Panthers extended time in their zone, a move that ultimately cost them. Evgenii Dadonov won a foot race, collected the loose puck and passed to Aleksander Barkov, who had absolutely nobody even close to him in the slot. He didn’t miss, making it a one-goal game yet again.
The second period began just as the first period ended, with the Lightning sleepwalking and making bad decisions. That got them into penalty trouble, forcing them to play defense and giving the Panthers momentum. The Cats cashed in one second after their power play ended, with Huberdeau batting his own rebound up in the air before watching it fall behind Vasilevskiy. Tie game.
From there, the Lightning got their act together. They started winning puck battles, foot races, and making smart decisions. That paid off, with Point sending a pass over to a sliding Ondrej Palat who broke the deadlock. A few minutes later, Yanni Gourde tipped a shot from rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev past Reimer for a 5-3 lead.
Final numbers. Fun game unless your a goalie person. Aside from the goals allowed, one of the better games the Bolts have played this season pic.twitter.com/rRIWz3haQW— You can call me Alan (@loserpoints) October 31, 2017
Looking for a way to spark his team, Florida coach Bob Boughner pulled Reimer in favor of Antti Niemi. The former Pittsburgh Penguins backup got a rude welcome when Vladislav Namestnikov took a Kucherov pass and sent it over Niemi’s shoulder for 6-3 after 40 minutes.
Entering the final period of play, the Lightning knew they needed to be smart with the puck because Florida was going to be bringing the house. That strategy paid off somewhat, as Tampa Bay let the Panthers score to bring it to 6-4 before Stamkos got a piece of Jake Dotchin’s shot to restore their three-goal cushion.
Of course, that led Boughner to send out his best line. They went right to work, getting the Lightning to chase. Dadonov’s goal came with less than five minutes remaining. Tampa Bay took over from there, hounding the puck carrier and causing turnovers. With Niemi pulled for the extra attacker, the Lightning played keep-away until Anton Stralman scored with seconds remaining to make it 8-5.
A game like this was good to see, especially coming off a lackluster performance when the team lost to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. It was also nice to see the Lightning explode after watching the Panthers tie things at 3 early in that second period. That was different from Game 2 of the season, where Tampa Bay fell apart in the second and early third period to lose 5-4. That’s part confidence and part motivation. The boys were not pleased with the effort against Anaheim, and it showed.
Everybody knows the dangers posed by the Kucherov, Stamkos, Namestnikov line. It was nice to see the Point line get in on the act. Even more exciting, all six defenseman suited up for this game recorded at least a point. If that can continue in some form, it will only help the Lightning.
I know, I know. He gave up five goals on 23 shots, but only one of those was his fault. The others came as the result of poor defensive zone coverage, not boxing people out in front of the net.
He also leads the league with 10 wins. Need I say more?
Failure to stop the Panthers top line:
The line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Dadonov shredded the Lightning defense, combining for 10 points and three of Florida’s five goals. Tampa Bay needs to find some way of limiting their production or there will be trouble in future meetings.
Lack of discipline:
The Lightning did pretty well in this department, but the times they failed to play the game the right way ended up with them paying the price.
The Lightning got away with a sloppy defensive game here, but only because the Panthers had no interest in playing hard without the puck either. It made for good entertainment, yet won’t win you many games in this league. Tampa Bay should know that, given their close playoff miss a season ago. This will no doubt be a point of emphasis during practice the next couple of days, because the New York Rangers will be hungry to earn their first road win of the season on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.