This one was a mixed bag for the Lightning. During the first period and a half, the Lightning struggled to find their game. The Florida Panthers, conversely, were crisp and efficient in their execution, so they enjoyed most of the puck possession over the opening 30 minutes. They pushed the pace, passed the puck well, and kept the Lightning back on their heels. As the second period neared its halfway point, the Panthers owned a 24-10 shot advantage.
Ultimately, though, the Lightning prevailed. There were three key elements to the victory.
First, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was, as is often the case, exceptional. He neutralized Florida's early territorial, shot and scoring chance advantage. He finished with 35 saves, erasing a multitude of Florida Grade-A looks along the way. He made seven stops alone on Evgenii Dadonov, including an acrobatic save on a two-on-zero opportunity early in the second period when the score was tied at one.
Second, the Lightning decisively won the special teams battle. The final stat sheet shows that the Lightning went 1-3 on the power play and allowed a shorthanded goal. So technically, the special teams goals were even. But the stats don't tell the full story. Kevin Shattenkirk's second period goal came one second after a Lightning power play ended and Pat Maroon's third period rebound tally occurred two seconds after the other man advantage finished. Both of those goals were, essentially, power play goals, since the Florida player leaving the box hadn't yet gotten back into the play. Additionally, Nikita Kucherov scored his first-period goal during a delayed penalty call, so the Lightning had a six-on-five on-ice advantage at the time. Similar to the Shattenkirk and Maroon goals, that tally counts as even-strength, even though the Lightning had an extra player in the attacking zone when the puck went in the net. Then there was the Ondrej Palat tally, which did count as a power play marker. That might have been the biggest goal of the game. Moments earlier, the Lightning had surrendered Vincent Trocheck's game-tying shorthanded goal. Just 45 seconds later, however, the Lightning regained the lead and never again relinquished it.
The special teams story includes the Lightning's penalty kill, too. The Panthers have a dangerous power play (their percentage was second in the league last year, trailing only the Lightning's). The Bolts killed off all four of Florida's power play chances on Thursday. Certainly, Vasilevskiy played a big role in that - he stopped all seven of the Panthers' power play shots.
And finally, the Lightning picked up their overall game in the last 30 minutes. The third period was, by far, the Lightning's strongest of the night. But they started to get their game together during the final 10 minutes of the second. Following Shattenkirk's goal at 10:28 of the second, the Lightning leveled out puck possession time, limited dangerous looks, and held the Panthers to just four more shots before the period ended.
Then, the Lightning controlled the majority of the third period. Yes, they had a turnover and breakdown on Trocheck's shorthanded goal, but that was an isolated play. The Panthers posted nine shots in the period - four came on an early power play chance and one was Trocheck's goal. Meaning that the Panthers managed just four five-on-five shots in the third (after producing 25 such shots during the first two periods). How did the Lightning turn things around? Like the Panthers did earlier in the game, the Lightning's passing was precise in the third. They managed the puck well when they had it and were defensively sound when they didn't. They won a lot of battles, especially in the offensive zone. That's where much of the action took place in the final twenty minutes. After registering just 24 shot attempts in the first two periods combined, the Lightning posted 26 attempts in the third.
So the Lightning did change the game's narrative after the opening 30 minutes, first evening out - and then reversing - Florida's early flow-of-play advantage.
The Lightning will be playing just four of their first 15 games at Amalie Arena and the next six are on the road. So it was big that they collected a home win on Opening Night.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Alex Killorn - Lightning. Two assists.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 35 saves.
- Mikhail Sergachev - Lightning. Career-high three assists.