First, the good news. The Lightning got the win, their fourth consecutive season-opening triumph. They received a terrific performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 33 saves. The line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde had the important task of matching up against Florida's top unit of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. Huberdeau did score a goal, but the Point line countered with three of its own. And finally, the Lightning played their best hockey in the third period, a frame in which they broke open a 2-2 game.
So there were positives. But there were also bumps along the way. For much of the first two periods, the Lightning struggled to possess the puck. They were unable to consistently execute plays to move the puck up ice and into the Florida end. As a result, they didn't spend much time in the offensive zone. That puck possession disparity was reflected in the shot attempt category - the Panthers had an attempt advantage of 20-10 in the first period and 51-31 after two periods.
But that lopsided shot attempt total didn't yield a lead for the Panthers after two periods. That's because Vasilevskiy erased several Grade-A scoring chances and the Lightning got goals off the rush from Palat and Point. So even though Florida netted two goals in the second half of the second period, the best the Panthers could manage was a tie game after 40 minutes.
As I mentioned earlier, the third period was the Lightning's best. I know the Panthers recorded 14 third period shots (as compared to 10 in the first and 12 in the second), but many of those came in the closing minutes as they pushed to tie the game. For the majority of the final frame, the Lightning were able to dictate play. Vladdy Namestnikov's power play goal at 59 seconds of the third not only gave the Lightning the lead back, it seemed the help them settle into their game. They effectively moved pucks out of their own end and got them in deep to the Florida zone. Their forecheck helped them keep the puck there.
Nikita Kucherov's insurance goal at 6:38 padded the lead and proved to be an important insurance marker. That's because after Huberdeau tipped in a Dadonov shot with 5:30 remaining, the Panthers pressed the attack. They also received a final power play chance with just over three minutes left. But they couldn't tie the score. Vasilevskiy stopped all the remaining shots he faced and the Lightning's penalty kill helped out with a strong effort on that final Florida power play chance. Palat and Point teamed up on the empty-netter, with Point clearing the puck from the Lightning d-zone and Palat finishing the scoring at the other end.
So the Lightning will take their two points, knowing there are areas they'll need to sharpen when the teams meet again on Saturday in Sunrise.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Namestnikov's PPG early in the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 33 saves.
- Ondrej Palat - Lightning. Two goals.
- Aleksander Barkov - Panthers.