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Burns: 3 Things from the Lightning's split with Florida

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 5-4 loss to the Panthers

by Bryan Burns /

Tampa Bay and Florida produced two epic back-to-back games to open the 2017-18 season.

The Lightning earned a 5-3 win over the Panthers on Opening Night at AMALIE Arena, the Bolts scoring two-consecutive goals in the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock while holding off a late charge from the Cats.

Florida got its revenge a day later at the BB&T Center, rallying from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 and holding off a late charge from the Bolts in a 5-4 Panthers win.

How about a playoff series already between these two in-state rivals?

That's how compelling the action was Friday and Saturday.

There was plenty for the Lightning to feel good about from their first two games.

There was also plenty to work on.

Dissecting the action from a 1-1 start for the Bolts in the opening 2017-18 edition of Three Things.

Video: TBL@FLA: Kucherov cashes in on loose puck in front


Coming into training camp, I was of the mindset it might not be the best idea putting your two best scorers, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, on the same line. Separate the two dynamos so all of the firepower isn't concentrated on one line. Spread the wealth.

Boy was I wrong.

The combination of Stamkos and Kucherov, along with Vladislav Namestnikov showing he's more than capable of keeping up with the pair, has provided the Lightning with a top line that is a bonafide threat to score each time they're on the ice.

Namestnikov and Kucherov both scored goals in the Bolts' season-opening win on Friday with Stamkos contributing an assist.

The line again proved extremely effective in the loss in Sunrise Saturday, accounting for Tampa Bay's first two goals.

On the first, Kucherov cleaned up Stamkos' shot off the post for his second goal of the season, Stamkos and Namestnikov assisting.

The second, a power-play marker, saw Stamkos sling a pass from circle to circle for Namestnikov to sweep home.

The trio has picked up right where it left off early last season until it was put on the shelf for the year once Stamkos went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Fortunately for the Lightning, those three aren't the only ones producing. Brayden Point pocketed goals in both games against Florida. Ondrej Palat scored a pair of goals in the season opener. Those two have combined for eight points over two games (4 goals, 4 assists).

The third line chipped in when Tyler Johnson got on the scoresheet in the second game versus Florida.

Bottom line: The Lightning have plenty of scorers up and down the lineup. Putting two of their best together on the top line has made them that much more dangerous.

 Video: TBL@FLA: Vasilevskiy robs Haley three times in front


Florida put up 48 shots on Tampa Bay in game No. 2 between the teams, the most the Lightning have allowed since the Islanders tallied 48 shots three seasons ago on December 20, 2014. The Panthers threatened the all-time record for most shots given up in a game by the Lightning, 51 on January 19, 2014 at Carolina.

The Bolts were on the opposite end of the spectrum. With six minutes left in the second period, they registered their first shot of the period and only their 10th of the game. Florida had 36 shots at that point.

Tampa Bay, though, had the lead at 3-2.

It wouldn't last, however, as the barrage sent Andrei Vasilevskiy's way eventually caught up to the Bolts, the Panthers scoring three goals in a span of 2:28 in the third period to take the lead and grab control.

Tampa Bay allowed eight goals over two games against Florida. The Panthers outshot the Bolts 84 to 55.

After the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said his team didn't deserve to win Saturday's game for the way it was outshot and outplayed.

"It was our speed," he said when asked if the shots disparity and the amount of goals given up is a matter of effort. "When we had an ability to get to a loose puck, they beat it to us. We just didn't play fast on the ice. Even defensively we didn't play fast. We didn't shut them down down low. We didn't separate the man from the puck. We let them get out of corners, and once you do that with a team, eventually it's going to end up in your net, and that's what happened in the third."

 Video: TBL@FLA: Vasilevskiy gets across to rob Huberdeau


One might look at the stat sheet from the first two games and draw the conclusion that Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn't been very good, giving up eight goals in two games.

That conclusion would be dead wrong.

For as many goals as Vasilevskiy has let in, he's saved about four times as many Grade-A chances from the opposition.

"Ultimately in this league, if you want to be a playoff team, you can't be giving up four goals a night, and that's what we're doing right now," Cooper said. "And if it wasn't for the heroic play of our goaltending, it could be worse."

Coming into the season, the question with Vasilevskiy was whether he could handle being the No. 1 goalie after serving as an apprentice to Ben Bishop for the last three seasons.

Playing both halves of a back-to-back set against Florida to open the season, he's shown, at least early on, that he's more than ready to step up to the challenge.

Here's hoping his teammates in front of him can give him a little more assistance.

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