Before looking at this game from the Lightning’s perspective, a tip of the cap to the Florida Panthers and their effort in this game. One would figure that, with the return of Roberto Luongo, Florida’s goaltending would be better this year. It will be. But the Panthers, under the guidance of new head coach Gerard Gallant, look also to be a much stronger defensive team in front of Luongo. The Panthers played a spirited game, competed hard throughout and, for the most part, did a good job of limiting the Lightning’s time and space in the offensive zone.
Having written that, the Lightning controlled play – and the puck – for most of the night. They outshot the Panthers, 32-21, had more possession time in the offensive zone and, with the exception of a couple of shifts in the second period, avoided dangerous turnovers. Neither of the Florida goals resulted from egregious Tampa Bay breakdowns. One followed an icing and a clean offensive-zone faceoff win. The other came during a sixth-attacker delayed penalty call in which Jonathan Huberdeau jumped on a loose puck in the crease after Radko Gudas blocked an initial pass attempt. In all, however, the Lightning executed the defensive part of their game quite well. The Panthers, by my count, didn’t have one odd-man rush during the entire evening.
And despite the Panthers’ overall solid defensive performance, the Lightning did generate several odd-man rush chances themselves during even-strength play. There was an Ondrej Palat breakaway in the second period, a two-on-one chance for Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov early in the third and later in the frame, another two-on-one opportunity for Palat and Steven Stamkos. Also in the third, Kucherov got loose in front for a redirection chance.
None of those chances went in, however. So the outcome came down to special teams. The Lightning netted three power play goals, scoring on a five-on-four, five-on-three and, in OT, on a four-on-three. They were aided by the fact that the Panthers gave them seven power play chances. And while they only had to kill two penalties, which were successful kills, both those kills came during the third period when the game was tied.
One of the rule changes the NHL has implemented this year is a switch of ends during overtime. The idea is to have more games decided during overtime, so fewer contests end up in the shootout. With the defensive zones across the red line from the benches, it’s more likely that tired players will be stuck on the ice. Or a team might get caught on a slow line change. The latter is what happened on the Lightning’s winning goal. Following a Florida clear, Ben Bishop made a terrific pass up the boards to Victor Hedman while the Panthers were attempted to change their three penalty killers. Consequently, Hedman was able to score off an open look on Luongo.
So in a close, hard-fought game, the Lightning found a way to pick up two important points. A good sign – and a good start.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore): Bishop’s pass to Hedman, who then scored the GWG in OT.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
1.Valtteri Filppula Lightning. Two assists.
2.Victor Hedman – Lightning. GWG in OT. Assist.
3.Roberto Luongo – Panthers. 29 saves.