After pre-game skate Thursday morning at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper saidBolts goaltender Evgeni Nabokov had a “swagger” about him that allowed the 39-year-old to have fun on the ice.
Nabokov certainly enjoyed his first start of the preseason later that night against the Florida Panthers.
Nabokov, about to embark on his 14th season in the NHL, shut out the Panthers at the BB&T Center, making 21 saves in a full-game performance to lead the Lightning to a 3-0 victory.
Tampa Bay has won three in a row and is 4-1 in the preseason.
“When we cracked a little bit, (Nabokov) was there to make the saves,” Cooper said. “I know it’s the preseason, but to have somebody with that veteran poise back there, just his calmness and the way he was playing the puck, it was exceptional.”
The Lightning scored the opening goal for the third-straight game. Ondrej Palat notched his first of the preseason, backhanding a feed from fellow 2013-14 Calder Trophy finalist Tyler Johnson past Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo, who played well himself, making 30 saves. Brett Connolly also had an assist on Palat’s goal, the second in two games for Connolly.
The goal came at 2:43 of the first period, the second game in a row the Lightning scored in the first three minutes.
“Our first 35 minutes, I thought we were really good,” Cooper said. “We had the puck quite a bit. We weren’t giving up any shots. Things changed a little bit when (Radko) Gudas got his penalty. We lost a little momentum then I think they had the final six shots of the period. It probably carried in a little bit to the third. But, overall I was happy with our game.”
Nikita Kucherov made it 2-0 with a third period goal. Vladislav Namestnikov waited with the puck in the offensive zone until Kucherov streaked down the left wing. Namestnikov crossed to Kucherov, who wristed a shot past Luongo. Matt Carle also had an assist on the goal, which came 7:53 into the third period.
Trailing 2-0 late, the Panthers pulled Luongo, but the Lightning weren’t phased. Kucherov netted his team-best fifth goal of the preseason and second of the game on the empty net with 1:10 remaining while Namestnikov and Victor Hedman were credited with assists.
Namestnikov leads the Lightning with seven assists and seven points through five preseason games.
“He clearly wants to try to make this team. As the preseason goes on, the games we get are tougher and tougher. We’re playing NHL competition right now, and he hasn’t blinked yet,” Cooper said about Namestnikov. “He’s upped his game since his call up last year. That’s what you want to see, you want to see guys have good summers and he has clearly had a good summer.”
The Lightning outshot the Panthers 33-21, including a 15-4 advantage after the first period.
Florida has yet to win in the preseason, falling to 0-3-2.
The Lightning play their final preseason game Saturday, October 4, against Florida at Amalie Arena. The Lightning face the Panthers a third-straight game in the season opener Thursday, October 9.