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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a season-opening victory

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 5-2 opening night victory over Florida

by Bryan Burns /

Tampa Bay's season-opening 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at AMALIE Arena wasn't perfect by any measure.

The Lightning allowed too many pucks to get through to goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Bolts getting outshot 37-30.

Tampa Bay turned the puck over carelessly at times and were punished, one wayward pass at the blue line on a third-period power play resulting in a shorthanded breakaway conversion for Vincent Trocheck.

The Bolts committed four minor penalties, including two in the third period while protecting a lead.

But, in the end, none of Tampa Bay's deficiencies mattered because the Lightning were able to grind out a victory in front of another home sellout crowd.

The Lightning never trailed against Florida, but they were tested repeatedly by the Panthers, who tied the game twice before the Bolts were finally able to pull away.

"I didn't like that we gave up the lead, but we got it right back. You kind of have that sinking feeling, but the guys were really positive on the bench," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Unfortunate we took a few penalties we didn't need to take, but the penalty kill was outstanding for us and I thought we generated chances and we generated chances not only to get the lead but to extend the lead and then protect the lead. That's a really good sign for us."

You know what else is a good sign?

The 1 under the W in the win-loss column.

Here are Three Things that helped the Lightning overcome their mistakes and kick off the 2019-20 campaign on a high.

Video: Palat on getting a hot start

Ondrej Palat struggled through an injury-riddled 2018-19 campaign, the talented Czech forward registering just eight goals and 34 points for the lowest totals of his career.

But in the season opener against Florida, a healthy Palat was the player of old, doing a little bit of everything to help the Lightning win. He put five shots on target, tied with Kevin Shattenkirk for the most on the Bolts. He dished out a team-high four hits. And he scored the game-winning goal at the end of a power play less than a minute after Florida tied the game 2-2 on Trocheck's shorthanded breakaway.

On the play, Palat set up in front of the net and batted a rebound out of the air and past Sergei Bobrovsky off of Mikhail Sergachev's initial saved shot.

"You always want to win the first game, at home especially," Palat said. "It was a big win."

But maybe even more important than the goal Palat scored, his line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn shut down Florida's top trio of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers generate a lot of their offense off of their top line. With Palat and his linemates keeping the Dadonov line from making an impact, the Lightning were able to hold a potent Panthers offensive attack at bay.

"You talk about best lines in the league, you would have to throw them in there as one of the top ones," Cooper said of the Barkov, Huberdeau, Dadonov trio. "They had to go head-to-head against them the whole night. They did a great job because those are three special players. To keep them pretty much off the board the whole night was just an outstanding night with him, Cirelli and Killer. It's only fitting that when we gave up the shorthanded goal that Palat was the guy that got the go-ahead goal. I thought he deserved it."

Video: FLA@TBL: Shattenkirk pots goal in Lightning debut

In his postgame media session, Cooper said Pat Maroon delivered the funniest comment in the winning locker room.

"Patty had the line he's on pace for 82 (goals)," Cooper said with a grin. "We'll see how that goes for him. It's just stuff like that that puts a smile on your face."

Maroon's going to have a lot of people wearing Lightning blue grinning if he continues to perform the way he did in the season opener. The Stanley Cup-winning forward iced the victory for the Lightning at 13:51 of the third period when he parked himself in front of the net, collected Victor Hedman's rebound off the back wall and scored past Bobrovsky to give the Lightning their first two-goal cushion of the evening.

"Lucky bounce off the boards, but my job is to stay in front of the net and look for second and third opportunities," Maroon said. "The boys did a good job of whacking the puck and getting second and third opportunities and I was just there to clean up the trash."

Earlier in the period, Maroon got hit by a shot in the offensive zone, one that left him crumpled on the ice before he gingerly made his way back to the Lightning bench. That he was able to not miss a shift and come back out to score an insurance goal later in the same period is a testament to his toughness.

"I'm used to those, so you'll probably see me go down a lot in front of the net," Maroon joked. "I'll get hit a lot there. My job's not to move the front of the net. If I get hit, I get hit. That's my job. I've made a career doing that. It hurts. It stings a little bit, get back to the bench, your knee locks up. But you go back out there and try to do it again."

Kevin Shattenkirk made a positive impression in his Lightning debut too. Although he admittedly wasn't as sharp early as he'd like to be, he recovered to provide a pivotal goal for the Bolts, scoring at 10:28 of the second period as a power play expired to put Tampa Bay back in front 2-1 after Mike Hoffman tied the game earlier in the period.

"I think for me it was really just getting the puck to the net and hoping for the best," Shattenkirk said. "It seemed to be there most of the night, those shooting lanes. It was just one of those ones that you kind of look and everyone else starts celebrating before you. You figure something good happened."

And although Luke Witkowski and Gemel Smith didn't get on the scoresheet, both brought a tenaciousness to the fourth line and, along with Maroon, were a physical presence on the ice, exactly what they were brought into the organization to provide.

Video: FLA@TBL: Kucherov hammers home Sergachev's nice dish

Nikita Kucherov picked up where he left off in 2018-19 when he won the Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies after recording 128 points, the most ever by a Russian-born NHL player, by scoring the opening goal of the 2019-20 season for the Lightning.

The goal was vintage Kucherov. With Mikhail Sergachev, who finished with the first three-assist game of his career, putting the puck on a tee for Kucherov at the top of the right circle, the Russian winger unleashed a wickedly deceptive one-timer that had Bobrovsky moving hard to his left while the puck ended up sizzling over his right shoulder before kissing the bottom of the crossbar and crossing the goal line. More than anything, Kucherov's deception game is what allows him to have so much success and continue racking up points. The shot looked so effortless off his stick, but the result was deadly.

Later in the game with the Lightning looking to finish off the pesky Panthers, Kucherov provided the second assist on Maroon's goal that gave the Bolts a 4-2 lead and finally put some distance between them and their opponent.

Kucherov finished the night with two points for the 126th multi-point game of his career. He had a NHL-best 38 a season ago. But at least for one night, Kucherov is not the Lightning's leading scorer as he pointed out to countryman Sergachev in the locker room after the game.

"He said I have the most points in the league," Sergachev said, relaying Kucherov's message to him after the win. "It's not going to take long for guys to catch me."

It might take the rest of the league some time to catch up to Kucherov though if he continues scoring at the pace he displayed on opening night.

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