A new-look Florida team, however, capitalized on numerous Lightning errors, particularly in a mistake-filled second period, to take control of the contest. The Panthers scored four times in the second period to build leads of 4-1 and 5-2.
Tampa Bay mounted a charge late in the second period, but former Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman scored 59 seconds into the third to snuff any momentum the Bolts had built.
Florida took two of the three games in the mini-series.
The Lightning return to the road to start a three-game trip, beginning Thursday with a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Dallas Stars.
In Dallas, the Bolts hope to rediscover the defensive play that was a hallmark of their game before the series against the Panthers.
Video: Cooper on Bolts 6-4 loss to Panthers
1. VICTIMIZED BY THEIR OWN MISTAKES
The turnovers, poor reads and sloppy puck management the Lightning largely eliminated from their game Saturday in a 6-1 rout of the Panthers in Sunrise returned in earnest Monday.
Following the loss, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was asked if his team's errors were a result of something the Panthers were doing or were self-inflicted.
Cooper replied the Bolts needed only to look in the mirror to see where the problem lie Monday.
"They didn't do anything really to us. It was all self-inflicted," Cooper responded. "Look at the first one, self-inflicted. The second one, self-inflicted. We had full control of the puck, and we just hand it over to them. The third, fourth one, we turned it over at the blue line, self-inflicted. Put ourselves in a bad spot for the penalty shot, self-inflicted. The sixth goal, terrible icing, we had full control of the puck."
After the Lightning scored the opening goal on Steven Stamkos' one-timer from the left circle in the captain's return to the lineup following a two-game absence, the Bolts gave the lead away. Curtis McElhinney, making his second start of the season, went out of his net to play a puck behind the goal. But the puck was slow to reach the trapezoid, and Patric Hornqvist got to it first, feeding a wide-open Jonathan Huberdeau in front for an easy equalizer.
Five minutes into the second period, Florida grabbed the lead for good, Frank Vatrano forcing Jan Rutta to turn the puck over in the Bolts' own end and feeding Owen Tippett in the right circle for his first goal of the season.
A couple minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev turned the puck over at the offensive blue line, leading to a breakaway for Vatrano the other way. Luke Schenn slashed Vatrano, giving the center a penalty shot, which he converted to make it 3-1 Florida. Anthony Duclair raced around Ryan McDonagh a couple minutes later, wheeled behind the net and deposited the puck past McElhinney for a wraparound goal and a 4-1 Panthers lead.
"Definitely a lot of odd mans and breakaways and looks that we pride ourselves in not giving up at least that many in a game," McDonagh said. "Credit them, they were connecting the dots well, but we need to be a little bit quicker in our play and keep our gap all over the ice and make it hard on them like we did the last game. We didn't do that consistently enough tonight."
The Lightning were never able to recover from that second period Florida flurry, fueled entirely by their own errors.
"We did it to ourselves," Cooper said. "Sometimes you get what you deserve, and we got what we deserved tonight."
Video: FLA@TBL: Johnson hammers home one-timer
2. SIGNS OF LIFE
Despite playing recklessly with the puck for much of the game and in particular over the first half of the second period, the Lightning still had a chance to come away from Monday's contest with points.
After going down 4-1, Alexander Volkov gave the Lightning a jolt of energy with his wrist shot from the left circle on a rush. The goal seemed to come out of nowhere, but it was just what the Lightning needed, and it was from the unlikeliest of sources, Volkov, who scored his first NHL goal just two nights earlier.
Florida re-established its three-goal lead less than a minute later, Aleksander Barkov given too much room in the offensive zone and the Panthers superstar making a sensational move at the net to draw McElhinney out and score on the open net. That made it 5-2 Florida.
And still, the Lightning weren't out of the game.
Volkov scored again in the second period, the Russian on a goal-scoring tear after breaking through in Sunrise. The goal was initially credited to Pat Maroon but was eventually switched to Volkov. On the play, Gemel Smith chased a loose puck behind the Florida net, centered in front where both Maroon and Volkov were waiting, the fourth line continuing to spark the Bolts despite being together for just two games.
"I think him and Smitty have played well," Maroon said of his linemates. "They've jumped in and they've capitalized on their opportunity to get back in the lineup. But Volkov is definitely making strides. He's being more confident with the puck. He's slowing the game down for himself. I think when you rush things, you start to get into your own head. I think Volky's done a really good job of just being patient, reading the game better, getting on the forecheck, using his speed to an advantage, shooting the puck when he needs to and holding onto it down below the top of the circles."
Less than a minute after Volkov got the Lightning to within two goals, the Bolts cut the deficit even more, Mathieu Joseph and Tyler Johnson breaking out on a two-on-one, Joseph dishing to Johnson on the back post and Johnson digging out a one-timer to cut Florida's lead to 5-4.
Momentum had clearly flipped in favor of the Lightning heading into the second intermission.
"It was kind of our game to be had, even though we weren't playing good," Maroon said. "We had them back on their heels."
Video: Ryan McDonagh | Postgame vs FLA
3. A FORMER FAN FAVORITE TURNS HEEL
Anton Stralman is one of the more beloved former Lightning players in franchise history.
His calm demeanor, positive attitude, steady play on the ice and ability to defend in even the toughest situations made him an instant fan favorite during his five seasons with Tampa Bay.
Stralman's departure came back to haunt the Lightning Monday night.
Less than a minute into the third period, all of the momentum the Lightning generated toward the end of the second was quickly erased. Stralman, in his second season with Florida, hopped onto a pass at the point and quickly skated toward the right circle to get by Barclay Goodrow. With a clear look at goal, Stralman snapped a shot over the shoulder of McElhinney and into the net, Stralman emphatically banging his stick and fist against the glass after scoring.
"I felt great going into the third period, and then to give up a goal in the first minute, it's inexcusable," Cooper said.
Stralman's goal would be the final tally in the game. The Lightning were never able to regain momentum, and the Panthers did well enough defensively down the stretch to thwart Tampa Bay each time it tried to mount anything offensively.
"They scored with, I don't know, a minute into the third period, it kind of deflates us," Maroon said. "But when you score four goals, you can't be giving up six. That's on us. That's not on the goalies. We've got to be better. We've got to be better defensively. Too many odd-man rushes. I thought we had some life going into the third period, and then, I don't know if it deflated us but obviously, you try to keep pushing. I thought we did a good job of work ethic in the third and pushing, pushing, pushing, but obviously it wasn't good enough."