More than a few times this season, the Lightning felt the end result didn’t reflect the action on the ice.
They would exit Sunrise with a familiar bitter taste.
After outplaying the Panthers for 59-and-a-half minutes, Florida snuck a puck by Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with 21 seconds remaining, Aaron Ekblad providing the gut punch for the second time in three nights.
Tampa Bay fell to 0-1-1 against its in-state rival and has lost four of its last five.
Observations from a frustrating finish ahead.
With Lightning head coach Jon Cooper telling reporters at morning skate Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin would all sit out the Florida game due to various ailments and the three recent callups -- Matt Taormina, Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden – would play, the only suspense remaining for pregame warmups revolved around which players would skate on which lines.
Cooper has tinkered with the lines all season in an attempt to find the right combination to produce goals, which have surprisingly been hard to come by for the Lightning this season.
On Monday, Cooper was forced to do some more shuffling to his makeshift lineup.
The Lightning went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen versus the Panthers.
- Vladislav Namestnikov – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
- Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
- J.T. Brown – Brian Boyle – Erik Condra
Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden skated as a duo during line rushes but was joined by an alternating Bolt for their shifts.
The top line of Namestnikov, Stamkos and Kucherov was buzzing all night. That trio generated a ton of scoring chances but just couldn’t finish, a theme that would be repeated throughout the night.
The rest of the lines were competitive too. Marchessault and Blunden performed admirably in their return to Tampa Bay. Brown was active in the offensive zone and finished with five shots, second only to Stamkos.
As it has all season, however, the puck wouldn’t cooperate. Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo stopped all 39 shots for his sixth win of the season and 407th of his career, tying Glenn Hall for seventh all-time in the NHL for wins.
Things I like about Florida’s BB&T Center:
- Nelly’s Ride Wit Me playing in the time between warmups and the start of the game over the stadium speakers. The 20-year-old college student me spent many a car ride rocking out to that song.
- The detailed Panthers’ logos that light up the ice from above and spin around in a circle pregame.
- The in-arena games during the intermissions. Watching people sprinting on ice with a giant inflatable tire around their waste and wiping out spectacularly will never not get old.
Former Florida goaltending great John Vanbiesbrouck was in attendance as the Panthers honored the nine 2015 South Florida Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
Vanbiesbrouck spent five seasons with Florida (1993-98) and led the Panthers to the 1996 Eastern Conference championship.
“Now it’s just hitting me,” Vanbiesbrouck said of the Hall of Fame honor. “I’m just very grateful.”
Vanbiesbrouck said he’s “fond” of the way the Panthers have been building their team.
“I think they’ve got an exciting team to watch and a great brand of hockey,” he said. “…I think they’re scaring a lot of people out there right now…I think they’ve got a real shot at doing some special things.”
Things I don’t like about Florida’s BB&T Center:
- The temperature. Seriously, you’d think a rink in South Florida would be warmer than most.
You’d be wrong.
Talking to various media members who’ve been around the league a few times, Florida is consistently the coldest arena in the NHL. By the time the game starts, my fingers are so frozen I can barely type.
- The crowd. The announced attendance was 12,067.
I believe the 67.
The 12,000, not so much.
If you have any desire to see your face on the big screen arena video board, however, Florida might be your place. With so few people in the stands and numerous camera shots of the crowd, your chances of getting on the JumboTron are pretty good.
I’m pretty sure the cameramen were catching people a second time around toward the end of the game because they had run out of new people to shoot.
*Former Miami Dolphins linebacker and NFL great Zach Thomas was also in the press box between the second and third period to talk to reporters about his Hall of Fame induction.
During the interview, Thomas was asked what hockey position he would play.
“Goalie,” he answered.
“Because I’m not good on skates.”
Thomas went on to say he would enjoy the physicality of the sport much like he relished contact in football.
“I would love checking people into the wall and taking the gloves off,” Thomas said. “That would be good. But, yeah, I wouldn’t be very good. You’d see me out there, it would be embarrassing.”
*With the way both goaltenders were playing Monday, it was going to take something fluky to produce a goal.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, they were on the wrong end of a wicked deflection in the closing seconds.
Aaron Ekblad scored the game-tying goal on a deflected shot in the final minute of Saturday’s game with the Bolts to force overtime and an eventual shootout won by the Panthers.
On Monday, Ekblad again provided the dagger, lining up a shot with traffic in front that redirected past Vasilevskiy, who had no chance to react to the puck’s sudden change in movement.
“[Stuff] happens,” Vasilevskiy said after the game. “We played well, really well, but we still can’t score. Without goals, you can’t win.”
*Cooper said Ekblad needs to cash in on his recent good fortune.
“He should send somebody to buy a lottery ticket in the last minute of the game,” Cooper deadpanned.
*The Lightning recorded a season-high 39 shots on goal.
The Lightning gave up a season-low 19 shots on goal.
The Lightning still lost.
*Cooper’s postgame thoughts on the spate of crushing losses the Lightning have suffered recently:
“I like to sit here and think it all evens out in the end. It can’t keep going like this forever. Guys are crushed after the defeat. This is game 20, and guys are ticked off because they’re working, they’re working hard, they’re doing what we ask, the puck’s not finding the back of the net. We can sit here and say they got that fortunate break there at the end, but we still didn’t score a goal. It’s tough.”