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Burns: Three things we learned in the Lightning's season opener

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Victor Hedman’s power-play goal 1:11 into overtime sent a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena home happy following the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Opening Night. With 81 regular season games remaining, let’s look at what we can expect from the Lightning following Thursday’s performance.

1. Bishop’s wrist injury looks completely healed from this vantage point

In preseason, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said goaltender Ben Bishop was reluctant to play the puck toward the latter half of the 2013-14 season because of an injury to his right wrist he picked up in January. “What was a strength became a weakness,” Cooper said following a Bolts’ training session in Estero, Fla.

Bishop’s willingness to move out from the between the pipes and confidently distribute the puck to teammates would be an indicator whether the sixth-year veteran was feeling comfortable again.

Thursday, Bishop showed no lingering effects following offseason wrist surgery in April. On the game-winning score, Bishop, seeing the Panthers making a full change with the Lightning on a 4-on-3 advantage, skated to his left to retrieve the puck and flicked a two-line pass to Hedman. As the Panthers raced to catch him from behind, Hedman wristed a shot over Florida goalie Roberto Luongo for the win.

It’s a pass Bishop likely never would have made in February.

“I felt good,” Bishop said when asked how he felt post game. “…It’s always good to get that first ‘W’ under your belt.”

2. The Lightning power play is pretty dangerous

Last season, the Lightning were fairly middle of the road on the power play, ranking 13th in the NHL. In 270 power-play opportunities, the Bolts scored 50 goals for a success rate of 18.5%.

In the 2014-15 opener against Florida, the Lightning had seven power plays and were successful on nearly half of them.

The Bolts scored all three of their goals with the advantage.

Having lost twice to the Lightning in the final two preseason games leading up to Thursday, the Panthers turned up the physicality and took more penalties hoping to reverse their fortunes. The Lightning made them pay for that strategy.

“Obviously, if you score on your power play, it’s going to make the opposing team think a little bit about penalties,” said Valtteri Filppula, who assisted on the Lightning’s first two power-play goals.

On the flipside, the Lightning’s penalty kill continued to perform well. After finishing the preseason killing 27-of-28 penalties, the Bolts were a perfect 2-for-2 on Thursday.

“Our special teams were up to the task today,” Cooper said.

3. The Bolts are resilient

After dominating Florida in two preseason games, the Lightning could have fallen into a funk when the Panthers scored the opening goal in the second period despite the fact the Bolts kept the puck in the Panthers’ end for much of the first period.

“That’s always a little nerve-racking when you go down that first goal and you can just tell, the fans and the anticipation of us scoring and then they score first,” Cooper said.

Tampa Bay answered almost immediately, however, Tyler Johnson scoring the Bolts’ first goal of the season from Filppula and Anton Stralman a little over two minutes later.

“I think that kind of pumps your tires back up again,” Cooper said. “I was really proud of our kind of fight back after they scored the first one.”

The Lightning might have hung their heads in the third period too after failing to hold onto a 2-1, third-period lead.

They didn’t, though, persevering through Hedman’s heroics in overtime to earn the two points.

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