SUNRISE, Fla. - "This one stings," Anton Stralman said bluntly.
After winning three of four games to kick off their nine-game homestand, the Florida Panthers came up just short in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night at BB&T Center.
"It was a big game," Stralman said. "Not just for me personally, but for our team and where we are in the standings and where they are in the standings in our division. That was a tough one."
Steven Stamkos broke the ice tonight, sliding the puck past an outstretched Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net to give the Lighting a 1-0 lead at 6:42 of the first period. In the second period, Alex Killorn doubled Tampa Bay's advantage to 2-0 when he cashed in on a rebound at 4:51.
Making his third consecutive start, Bobrovsky stopped a season-high 46 shots.
"Unfortunate to lose that hockey game," Bobrovsky said. "It was big for us, but we still did some good things. I thought we defended well. The guys, again, allowed me to see the puck and cleared the rebounds. I'll try to take the positive out of this game. It's unfortunate to lose to a division opponent, but we still have lots of hockey [ahead]. We'll take the positive and move on."
With 8:53 left in the third period, the Panthers appeared to finally get on the board and cut their deficit down to 2-1 when Brett Connolly tipped in a goal past Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, after a video review, officials deemed Connolly's stick was over the crossbar and disallowed the goal.
Finishing with 27 saves, Vasilevskiy's shutout bid was spoiled by Evgenii Dadonov, who tapped in a rebound from the doorstep to trim Florida's deficit to 2-1 with two minutes left in regulation.
"It was one of those nights where you're just trying to get something going," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "We didn't have much, whether it was pace or possession. [Tampa Bay] played a good game. They played it like it was the biggest game of the year for them. It was one of those games.
"It was a good measuring stick for us to meet that type of challenge where it's our most important game. It's a learning curve. It's something that we've got to be better and expect a much harder performance from our team. As you go along we're going to have some big games, and we're going to have to match that emotion."
The Panthers, who occupy third place in the Atlantic Division at 15-10-5, will look to get back in the win column when they continue their homestand Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's loss in Sunrise…
1.BIG NIGHT FOR BOB
Big save after big save, Bobrovsky kept the Panthers in tonight's game.
Making at least 14 stops in each period - including 18 in the second alone - the 31-year-old veteran finished the night with a season-high 46 saves. Facing down Tampa Bay's second-ranked offense, he also stopped 13 of 14 high-danger shots, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"I thought he was outstanding again," Quenneville said. "He gave us a chance."
Continuing to build up momentum after backstopping the Panthers to huge back-to-back wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks in less than 24 hours this past weekend, Bobrovsky has looked nearly infallible over his last three starts while stopping 109 of 113 shots.
"I tried to build the good emotions and the good shape out of those back-to-back games," Bobrovsky said. "I just enjoy it, have fun and do my best to try and help this team win."
2. A LATE GOAL
In the waning minutes of regulation, Dadonov finally got the Panthers on the board.
With goaltender pulled in favor of the extra attacker, Mike Hoffman sent a wrist shot on net that caught a piece of Jonathan Huberdeau before landing on the goal line and being tapped in by Dadonov, who cut Tampa Bay's lead down to 2-1 with exactly two minutes left on the clock.
Video: TBL@FLA: Dadonov pushes home trickling puck
Ranking second on Florida in goals (12) and fourth in points (24) this season, Dadonov has recorded four points over his last five games, including a pair of goals. Against the Lightning tonight, the 30-year-old veteran winger also chipped in two takeaways over 19:10 of ice time.
3. HUBERDEAU MOVES UP
Huberdeau has separated himself from Aleksander Barkov - for now.
With an assist on Dadonov's goal, the 26-year-old winger took over sole possession of Florida's scoring lead with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists), breaking a tie with Barkov, who has 36 points.
Putting a dent in the scoresheet in 23 of 30 games to start the season, Huberdeau has been on a tear in recent weeks, racking up 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) over his last 18 games. Tied with Barkov for the team-lead in assists, his 26 helpers are also tied for the sixth in the league.
Huberdeau is 23 points shy of matching Olli Jokinen's franchise record for career points (419).
4. A RARE OCCURANCE
The Panthers aren't used to having off-nights on offense.
Entering tonight's matchup averaging the fourth-most goals per game in the league (3.52), Florida's one-goal performance against the Lightning marked just the second time this season that the team has been held to fewer than two goals.
Despite generating 28 shots on goal, only 16 of those came at 5-on-5. The other 12 came on the power play, where they went an uncharacteristic 0-for-3. Overall, they finished the game trailing Tampa Bay in both shot attempts (80-65) and high-danger shot attempts (18-9).
"I think our whole game fell apart," Stralman said. "We didn't generate anything offensively. I don't' think we had much of a forecheck. All in all, it was a poor performance."
5. SUNSHINE SERIES
With three games now in the books, the battle for the Sunshine State is nearing its end.
After dropping two of the first three games against the Lightning, Panthers won't have to wait long for a chance to split the series season series with their rivals. In less than two weeks, the teams will reconvene at Amalie Arena for their final matchup of the regular-season on Dec. 23.