The best news for the Florida Panthers wasn't that Tim Thomas was able to go all the way in his second NHL appearance since April 2012; it was that Kris Versteeg scored twice and added an assist in his second game back after knee surgery to help the Panthers notch a 5-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It always feels nice to score," Versteeg said, "but that first one -- you work awfully hard in seven months of rehab to get that feeling again. It feels pretty good, but the win feels better."
Thomas, who signed with the Panthers on Thursday after spending time with the team during training camp on a professional tryout contract, stopped 19 of 22 shots.
Versteeg, who was lost for the season in March and wasn't cleared to play again until Thursday, scored the go-ahead goal with 8:38 remaining in regulation and hit the empty net with a minute to play. Brad Boyes, who signed a contract with the Panthers earlier in the day, Scott Gomez and Jesse Winchester also scored for Florida.
The only bad news for Florida was that center Marcel Goc and defenseman Erik Gudbranson both left the game with upper-body injuries. Goc was hit in the face by a puck; Gudbranson left late in the second period after being driven into the boards by Tampa Bay's Richard Panik, who was assessed a major penalty for boarding. The Panthers said both were kept out of the remainder of the game as a precaution.
Steven Stamkos and Brett Connolly scored in the first 7:41 to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Martin St. Louis' goal 2:02 into the third period tied the game at 3-3.
"We had a really good first period, and then we saw a really bad second two, so that was a little bit troubling," coach Jon Cooper said.
Both teams open the regular season Thursday night on the road: Florida visits the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay is at the Boston Bruins.