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Ideal scenario for Lightning in season-opening win

Battling through adversity and positive impact from the newcomers a good sign for the Bolts

by Bryan Burns /

As far as season opener's go, Tampa Bay's 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers Thursday was pretty much ideal from a Lightning perspective.

Most importantly, the Lightning won. Despite not trailing the entire night, there were moments when the outcome was shaky, particularly when the Panthers tied the game 2-2 in the third period on a shorthanded breakaway.

The Lightning faced adversity and responded positively. Just :45 seconds after the aforementioned goal by Vincent Trocheck, Tampa Bay pulled back in front on the same power play, Ondrej Palat batting a rebound out of the air and past Sergei Bobrovsky for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

Video: Post-Practice | Cooper

The Bolts' newcomers all played a role in the victory. Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon each provided a goal. Luke Witkowski and Gemel Smith combined with Maroon to form an impactful fourth line that played physically, possessed the puck and created a number of scoring opportunities. Carter Verhaeghe made his NHL debut and got some time on the Lightning's second power-play unit, a group that supplied the Bolts' second goal when Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from inside the blue line eluded Bobrovsky right after a power play expired.

"It wasn't like he played 20 minutes, but his line contributed," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of Verhaeghe. "They got offensive zone time. They kept their shifts short, which is understandable. But he did his job."

And while the Lightning won by three goals over an in-state rival that has seemingly assembled all the pieces to make a playoff push and a sustained run once they get to the postseason, there were plenty of missteps along the way for the Bolts that will have the players' attention and provide teachable moments for the coaching staff.

But, also, don't forget about the win. That's what made the 2019-20 opener particularly perfect.

"It's ideal because we have only three games at AMALIE Arena in our next 14, and so you've got to for sure bank those points," Cooper said. "Now we have to go on the road and start banking points. So to get the ones at home is big for us."

The Lightning were challenged in Thursday's opener. And they responded positively each time. When Mike Hoffman skated wide open to the edge of the crease and one-timed Trocheck's pass from behind the net into the goal to tie the game 1-1, the Lightning had an answer, Shattenkirk scoring his first goal as a Bolt seconds after a power play expired and eight minutes after Hoffman's tying goal to nudge Tampa Bay back into the lead.

When the Lightning turned the puck over in the neutral zone on a power play, leading to Trocheck's breakaway shorthanded goal that tied the game 2-2 roughly nine minutes into the third period, the Lightning had an answer, the second power-play unit not letting the earlier disappointment with the man-advantage discourage them and pushing the Bolts back in front on Ondrej Palat's determined rebound goal.

Once Maroon scored his first goal as a member of the Lightning a little over four minutes later, the two-goal cushion was too much for the Panthers to overcome.

"I thought our third period, we handled a little bit of adversity there giving up the shorthanded goal," Cooper said. "It's one thing giving up a goal but giving up a shorty probably stings a little bit more. And we were able to respond and pull that game out and then really not give them a chance on the 6-on-5, all positive steps, especially in the home opener."

The Lightning's play Thursday wasn't all positive. They gave up 37 shots, including 16 in a second period when the Panthers threatened to take control. They turned the puck over way too often. They committed four minor penalties, providing a dangerous Florida power play four chances to make an impact in the game (it didn't because the Lightning penalty kill was stellar). And they gave up a few prime scoring chances, once again relying on an A-plus performance from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to bail them out, a scenario that happened far too often last season and ended up costing them once the playoffs started.

Video: FLA@TBL: Maroon taps home goal to extend lead

"The one thing was the scoring chance total against was where we liked it. The Grade-As was not. When we gave up a scoring chance, it was a doozy," Cooper said. "We're taking steps forward. But there's so much more room for improvement. There was a little bit of risk in our game, especially in the second period. It's a work in progress to eliminate. It was addressed. The players addressed it. And now we move on to tomorrow."

Most importantly, though, the Lightning finally collected a win, something they hadn't done since the final game of the 2018-19 regular season. With the way the Bolts were bounced from the playoffs, the chance to wash that bitter taste out of their mouths was perhaps the sweetest aspect of Thursday's season-opening win.

"The last time the fans saw us play, it was a tough loss for us," Cooper said. "(Winning the opener) was big."

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