The Tampa Bay Lightning prospects were "a bit nervous" according to head coach Benoit Groulx facing their counterparts from the Washington Capitals to start the 2016 Rookie Tournament hosted by the Florida Panthers at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.
But after falling behind 2-0 within the first five minutes, the Lightning settled.
And then they dominated.
Paced by a pair of goals from Brayden Point and 2016 first round draft pick Brett Howden plus a four-point night from Point, the Lightning rallied from a deficit three separate times before pulling away for a 7-6 victory in the opening game of the three-day rookie tournament.
"I thought we got better as the game went along," Groulx said. "I really liked our third period. I thought we controlled that third period; our forecheck was good, our second effort was good. We did a lot of good things. I liked the grit we brought to this game because we were down 2-0 early, we came back. We were down 4-2, came back again and then took control of the game. A lot of good things for our first game obviously."
The Lightning scored three-consecutive goals after falling behind 5-4 seven minutes into the third period. Howden netted his second goal of the game, crashing the back post and one-timing Taylor Raddysh's cross-ice pass into the back of the net to level the score 5-5 halfway through the third.
"It felt good," Howden said. "It's just great to be out here with everybody. Everybody's a great player. Every shift you go out there, you're working as hard as you can. Everybody's having a lot of fun, and that's the biggest thing, if you're having fun, everybody's playing (well)."
Point gave the Lightning their first lead with a little more than six minutes remaining in regulation. With Boris Katchouk lining up a shot from the blue line, Point found an opening in the slot and tipped Katchouk's blast up and over Washington backup goaltender Adam Carlson.
"We've got a lot of talent in this room," Point said. "We believe we can score goals, and I think today was proof."
Less than a minute later, Point gave the Lightning an insurmountable lead on a goal set up by Adam Erne, who drove powerfully to the net to get in close then fed a wide-open Point across the crease with an accurate pass.
"He's not only a skilled player, I think he's a fierce competitor," Groulx said of Point. "When he's in the battle for the puck, when he's in the race for the puck, when he's driving the net to beat his opponent to get open, he's someone that wants to make a difference. He's someone who wants to make the play, wants to score the goal, wants to make that pass. That's the compete he's got, and I think that's what made the difference in his game. When you bring that skill level and that compete, you have a player like him. It was nice to see him dominate the game today."
Washington scored with a little more than four minutes remaining to cut the deficit to 7-6 but could get no closer. Lightning goaltender Connor Ingram, who entered for starter Adam Wilcox midway through the game, stopped 18 of 20 shots over the final 30 minutes to earn the win.
Washington scored twice in the opening minutes, but Mitchell Stephens answered for the Lightning, powering a shot past Vitek Vanecek from the left circle.
Soon after, Brian Hart ripped a shot on a Lightning power play by Vanecek to level the score 2-2.
The Caps scored again before the first intermission and added a shorthanded goal in the second period against Wilcox to go back up by two scores.
Wilcox made 15 saves on 19 Washington shots.
Midway through the second period, Howden scored his first goal to bring the Bolts within one.
"I liked the way he brings the game to his speed, like he can adjust, like he's got different speeds to his game," Groulx said of Howden. "Obviously, he's still a young player. He's got to grow into his body. He's got to get bigger and stronger and faster, but the first impression is very good. He's a smart player, competes, can pass the puck, shoot the puck, good vision. I thought he had a good game."
Adam Erne tied the game with 7:26 to go in the second to make it 4-4. Erne, along with Howden and Hart, finished Saturday's game with two points.
Washington retook the lead for the final time 5-4 on a power-play goal seven minutes into the third period before the Lightning rallied for the final time.
"I think it's a good group," Groulx said. "It's a fun group to be around, talented, skilled. I think we're going to see many of them one day in a Lightning uniform for sure."
Ten different Lightning players registered at least a point. Five Bolts scored goals.
The Lightning continue the rookie tournament Sunday against the Nashville Predators. Puck drop is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.