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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a loss to Florida

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 3-2 loss to the Panthers

by Bryan Burns /

For 35 minutes, the Tampa Bay Lightning had their way with the Florida Panthers in preseason game No. 5 for both teams, the Bolts building a 2-0 lead and clamping down on the Panthers potent attack.

But Florida rallied in the third, catching the Lightning sleepwalking through the final period perhaps, and scored three unanswered goals to rally for a 3-2 victory.

More so than the last-period collapse, the concern for the Bolts was the loss of star winger Nikita Kucherov, who didn't come out of the locker room for the second period after sustaining a lower-body injury and was held out the remainder of the game.

We should find out more about Kucherov's status when the Lightning return to action Thursday for morning skate at the Amway Center in Orlando. Meanwhile, the Lightning fell to 2-3-0 in the preseason following the loss to Florida. They'll get a chance to even the best-of-three preseason series against the Panthers when the two teams lock up Thursday in Orlando.

Here's what stood out for the Lightning from Tuesday's loss.

Video: McDonagh on the team in tonights game

Tampa Bay appeared to have the game in hand entering the third period. After a scoreless first, the Lightning opened up the scoring in the second, Mathieu Joseph finding Adam Erne alone in the slot on the power play and Erne firing past Florida goalie James Reimer for his team-leading third goal of the preseason.

Tampa Bay upped its lead to 2-0 six minutes when Steven Stamkos wheeled into the offensive zone, drew a pair of defensemen toward the center of the ice then spun and dropped a pass onto the post for Alex Killorn to slam home.

In the third period, however, Florida got back in the game on a fluky goal, Evgenii Dadonov getting a healthy tip on Mark Pysyk's shot from distance to put one past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Aaron Ekblad tied the game with a shorthanded tally on a disastrous power play for the Bolts. And Dadonov made a strong move toward goal to set up Aleksander Barkov's game-winning goal with 7:29 to go.

After the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was asked if the way the game ended would stick with him.

"It would really stick with me in a bad way if this was a week from Saturday," Cooper responded. "But it's a Tuesday night in the preseason. I'd like to spin it around and look at the first 35 minutes, concentrate on that."

In those first 35 minutes, the Lightning had more jump than the Panthers and controlled the puck as a result. The Bolts outshot the Panthers 12-6 in the first period and were up 23-16 after 40 minutes.

"We had the puck the whole time," Cooper said of the first 35 minutes. "We skated. We were first to the puck, second to the puck, third to the puck. If they had somebody there, we were beating them to it. We possessed it. We were getting chances. We were shooting. Everything. Everything that leads to successful outcomes of games, we were doing, and then we didn't do it down the stretch. We've got to look into why."

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh offered his perspective as to the why.

"Whether they got a little bit of life from what you could call a fluky goal, that's no excuse for us," he said. "We weren't sharp the last period and definitely weren't moving our feet and skating and being as assertive as we were in the first two periods."

The result? A 3-2 loss for the Lightning and a lesson learned heading into the regular season.

Early in the second period, it became apparent something was up with Nikita Kucherov as the All-Star forward was not on the wing with his linemates Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point and wasn't on the bench.

Midway through the second, the Lightning announced Kucherov had sustained a lower-body injury and wouldn't return to the game. In his place, Mathieu Joseph performed admirably and helped set up the Bolts' opening goal.

But losing Kucherov for any amount of time once the regular season begins would be a huge blow to the Bolts.

Fortunately, it doesn't appear that will be the case.

Following the game, Cooper suggested Kucherov was held out of the final 40 minutes to be safe.

"It's the preseason, so precaution is No. 1, paramount for us," he said. "I can't speculate. I don't think it's long term."

Kucherov became just the third player in Lightning history to hit the triple digit scoring mark in a season when he put up 100 points in 2017-18. He's one of the best players in the NHL. His loss would be a major blow for the Lightning's Stanley Cup hopes.

Hopefully, Cooper's assessment will prove correct.

Video: Erne on competing to make the roster

The young prospects pushing to make the Opening Night roster certainly aren't making the decision an easy one for the Lightning coaching staff.

Mathieu Joseph showed off his speed all night versus Florida, drawing a penalty on one sequence after outracing a Panther to a puck behind the Cats net and getting tripped up in the process. He helped set up the Lightning's first goal when he made a smart pass into the slot for a wide-open Adam Erne to one-time into the back of the net.

"He plays the game at a high pace. He's fast," Cooper said. "As a staff, we talk about placing guys in different situations and who can handle what. He was just put in that situation for the last couple periods. For him to be effective, he's got to use his speed. Palat and Point had it going pretty well for most of the night, so let's see if he can keep up with them and he did."

Mitchell Stephens didn't get on the scoresheet, but he played a solid two-way game and proved his versatility by playing two-and-a-half minutes on an effective penalty kill for the Bolts.

And Erik Cernak continues to make his case to break into the Lightning's top seven defensemen with another superb effort pairing with veteran Ryan McDonagh for the second time this preseason.

"You can see the size, obviously. He covers a lot of ground and a good skater too," McDonagh said. "Another one of those guys that talks a lot, asking me questions and stuff, talking through plays on the bench. I love that stuff. It's great that he's wanting to try and experience things and see things and be better out there. I thought he's been awesome here two games with him, really solid and pretty good couple of games for him."

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