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Sights and Sounds from Lightning Preseason Finale at Florida

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the preseason in style, rallying in the final six minutes after a listless two-plus periods to win in Florida 3-2. Ondrej Palat got the Bolts on the board with 5:26 to go off Brian Boyle’s behind-the-back pass, Boyle tied the game with a beauty of a wrister from the left circle and Jonathan Drouin capped a spectacular individual preseason campaign, netting the game-winner with 2:02 left in regulation. The Lightning pick up their only road win of the preseason and finish the exhibition schedule 3-3-1. Now, the real fun begins, the regular season starting Thursday against Philadelphia at Amalie Arena. But before that, let’s recap Saturday’s confidence-building win in Sunrise.

Cedric Paquette hasn’t played since taking a hard slap shot off the left leg a week ago at Dallas.

Paquette was again absent from the Bolts’ lineup on Saturday, but Cooper said he’s not concerned about the rugged forward’s availability for Opening Night vs. Philadelphia.

“He’ll probably be back full time on Monday,” Cooper said.

Paquette skated for the first time since the injury on Thursday, albeit in a red no-contact jersey.

The 22-year-old played in 64 regular season and 24 postseason games for the Lightning in 2014-15, posting 15 goals, including the winning score in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and seven assists.

Nikita Kucherov took part in Saturday’s morning skate in a regular practice jersey two days after getting crunched into the boards during the first period of the Bolts’ home victory over Dallas and exiting the game without returning.

During morning skate, Cooper said Kucherov was “probable” for the contest against the Panthers, but the Russian right winger didn’t appear for pregame skate and didn’t play Saturday.

Following the game, Cooper said holding Kucherov out of the lineup was precautionary.

As fans file into the BB&T Center prior to pregame warmups, a funky, Caribbean-flavored medley reminiscent of elevator music plays over the speakers.

It’s loud.

It’s obnoxious.

And it doesn’t stop.

By the 87th time I hear the chorus of Guantanamera, I’m ready to poke my eardrums out.

Tampa Bay’s special teams were anything but during the preseason and must improve with the regular season five days away.

The Lightning finished 0-for-4 on the power play against the Panthers and failed to score a power-play goal in their final three preseason games, finishing 3-for-32 total in seven contests.

Entering Saturday’s game, the Lightning ranked 22nd in the NHL with the man-advantage.

Conversely, Florida scored a power-play goal late in the first period, Nick Bjugstad rocketing a one-timer past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. The Bolts gave up six power-play goals on 26 opportunities, a penalty kill rate of 76.9 percent.

Prior to Saturday’s game, the Lightning PK unit was just 24th in the league.

Tyler Johnson left the game in the second period and didn’t return. As the third period began, the team announced he had sustained an undisclosed injury and wouldn’t return, reducing the Triplets line to just Ondrej Palat for the remainder of the final period with Kucherov also not playing.

In the third, Alex Killorn went down with an undisclosed injury as well and missed the rest of the game, further depleting the Lightning’s already thin lineup to just nine forwards for the remainder.

“It reminded me a little bit of pee wee and those days with only three lines,” Drouin joked.

Amazingly, the Lightning hit their stride under the less-than-ideal circumstances, starting and completing the comeback with a shortened bench.

“I don’t know, maybe that was the answer,” Cooper said.

Cooper didn’t have an update on either injury following the game but didn’t seem particularly concerned.

“Those guys will be evaluated (Sunday),” Cooper said. “I could sit here and say precautionary, but we won’t know for sure until (Sunday). Hopefully, everybody’s going to be OK.”

Drouin ranked tied for fourth in the NHL for preseason points with six (3 goals, 3 assists) entering Saturday’s game and continued his outstanding play in the finale versus the Panthers, scoring the game-winning goal in spectacular fashion.

Drouin took possession of the puck at center ice, charged into the Panthers’ zone with a tremendous amount of speed, which caused a Florida defenseman to fall on his butt and maneuvered into the left circle to unleash a howitzer past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo.

The goal was eerily similar to the one he scored against Pittsburgh in Johnstown, except this one came from the opposite wing.

Drouin also had an assist on Boyle’s game-tying goal.

“Great play on Boiler’s goal, big goal, he’s hot right now,” Steven Stamkos said. “We saw Kuch do that in the preseason last year. The only thing you’re going to get out of that is confidence. That’s a very important thing in this league. He’s got it right now, and hopefully it continues.”

Drouin finished the preseason as the Lightning’s leading goal scorer with four in six games.

“I’m happy with the preseason,” Drouin said. “It’s my first one in three years. It’s definitely fun to come into the season having a little confidence, a little momentum in my game.”

Tampa Bay picked up its first and only road victory of the preseason after failing in three previous attempts.

Like last season, the Lightning were tougher at home, going 2-0-1 during the exhibition schedule.

Tampa Bay won its final two preseason games to finish 3-3-1.

The Lightning looked lethargic in the second period, registering just five shots on goal, underscoring the improbability of their comeback win.

The key to the turnaround, Stamkos surmised, was getting more pucks on net in the third.

“We didn’t turn the puck over, we got the puck in deep, got pucks to the net,” the captain said. “…The third period, we had 14 shots. Odds are, you’re going to create some chances. It was nice to see, and, hopefully, this is a building block, a fresh taste of what hockey we need to play heading into the season.”

Stamkos said Saturday’s win can do nothing but give the team confidence entering a highly-anticipated 2015-16 regular season.

“Hopefully we can build on this third period because that was one of the few good periods where we played very solid, played the way that made us successful last year. If anything, it’s a good period to end the preseason on and hopefully that’s kind of the mentality that’s fresh in your mind when we start Thursday.”

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