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Luongo holds strong, Cats defeat Bolts 3-1

Coming into a game against the Florida Panthers, a team that leads the league in suppressing shots against, scoring chances, and expected goals against, the Lightning had to know that scoring goals would difficult. And this definitely proved to be true.

In continuation of what has become a recurring theme early in the season, the Lightning fell behind after allowing a goal just over three minutes into the game. But this one hurt more than normal for Lightning fans, because it was scored by former Bolt Jonathan Marchessault. For Marchessault, it marked his seventh goal of the season, as he continues to make Lightning fans wonder what might have been had he received more playing time on Bolts ice. After the initial goal, the game settled into a rhythm with both teams playing solid defensively and limiting chances.

In the second period, the goaltenders took over the game. Ben Bishop and Roberto Luongo made outstanding saves to keep the score 1-0 in favor of the Panthers. Bishop in particular was responsible for keeping his team in the game during the second 20 minutes. His most outstanding save of the night came when he Stretch Armstrong’d his left leg out to shut down a rebound chance after a scramble around his net late in the period.

Going into the third period, the game seemed to be headed for a 1-0 finish as both goaltenders looked unbeatable in the second period. But early in the period, Panthers defender Alex Petrovic made a massive mistake losing control of the puck right in front of his own net while Luongo was out of position. Ondrej Palat made sure the Panthers paid for that mistake by shoving the puck just across the line before Luongo could get his pad in front of it.

After Palat’s goal, Luongo seemed to play even better. Despite creating a number of quality chances including some dangerous redirects and shots through screens, the Lightning were unable to find a way to take the lead. And with under five minutes to play, the Panthers surged ahead for good on an impressive play from Reilly Smith. The Panthers forward picked Victor Hedman’s pocket at the blue line, danced around Anton Stralman, and fired a beautiful shot over Bishop. While it was certainly a mistake by Hedman, it was also an excellent play by Smith to beat two of the best defenders in the league and then pick a spot against a solid goaltender.

For the Lightning, the result drops them to 7-5-1 while the Panthers move to 6-6. Both teams are likely to compete for an Atlantic Division title this season, and this emerging rivalry will continue to grow as the games increase in importance.

If tonight’s game is an indication of what can be expected when these teams play, then fans of both teams should be excited. The game was well-played on both sides with talented competing to generate offense against well-structured defensive systems. Both teams played at a fast pace and put pressure on each other’s goaltenders, who both performed admirably. The next game between these two will be on January 26th in Sunrise once again.

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