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5 Takeaways: Panthers Get 'Wake-Up Call' in Exhibition Loss to Lightning

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

7/29/20 Post Game Interviews

7/29/20 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Brian Boyle and Erik Haula discussing the team's exhibition game against the Lightning

  • 01:55 •

The Florida Panthers will need to learn from this one.

In their lone exhibition game before the postseason begins, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said he hopes his team received a "wake-up call" following their 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena.

"How we respond to that is going to be one of those things where, hey, you can't be happy with the results," Quenneville said during his post-game Zoom teleconference from Toronto. "We're looking for a better effort across the board."

From start to finish, Brayden Point did a lot of the heavy lifting for the Lightning.

After Tampa Bay forced a turnover in Florida's zone, Point corralled a pass from Ondrej Palat, made a few quick dekes near the top of the crease, and then lifted a backhand shot over Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 1-0 at 13:42 of the first period.

Then, with just a few seconds remaining in the opening frame, Point showed off his wheels when he took an outlet pass from Kevin Shattenkirk, flew up the right side of the ice, and snuck a shot into the twine short-side to make it 2-0 at 19:55.

Bobrovsky finished with 29 saves on 34 shots, while Andrei Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, gobbled up all 26 shots that he faced to earn the shutout.

"I thought Bob got better as the game went on," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who went 23-19-6 during the regular season. "I thought he battled and did what he had to do. [There were] a lot of open looks at both ends of the rink today."

In the second period, the Bolts continued to fill up the net. After Nikita Kucherov blasted home a one-timer on the power play to make it 3-0 at 1:53, Luke Schenn connected on a shot a mere 3:20 later to increase Florida's deficit to 4-0 at 5:13.

At 9:12 of the third period, Kucherov scored again to put the Lightning on top 5-0.

"It's not a good feeling right now," Panthers forward Brian Boyle said. "A loss is a loss. I don't think there's one area of our game that we can be even OK with. It's going to be a lot of work. Thankfully we have a couple days to do it.

"But we've got to understand a couple things from a mental aspect, I think. [We have to] understand that we made some mistakes that cost us. The intensity is only going to ramp up. We have an opportunity to learn our lesson."

The next time the Panthers take the ice it'll be against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which begins with Game 1 on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

"We're going to need everybody across the board to be better," Quenneville said.

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday's exhibition loss in Toronto…

1. NEW ARENA EXPERIENCE

The NHL's new in-arena experience was certainly something to behold.

From the piped-in crowd noise to the tarps that covered the empty seats of the lower bowl, the league has certainly pulled out all the stops in creating a lively atmosphere despite the unfortunate lack of fans due to the COVD-19 pandemic.

And while Panthers forward Erik Haula described the setting as "very different than what we're used to," players have already begun to adjust to the changes.

"It's nice to get an exhibition game and get a feel for what it's going to be like," Haula said. "We talked in the locker room that it's very, very important to have a positive bench… because you've got to find that energy among yourselves."

2. WEEGAR OUT OF ACTION

While Aaron Ekblad was expected to sit out today's contest, the absence of his defensive partner, MacKenzie Weegar, came as a surprise prior to puck drop.

In the midst of his third full tour of duty with the Panthers, Weegar notched 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 45 games played during the regular season.

Asked about his status post-game, Quenneville said, "We'll see on Weegs."

More updates on Weegar's status should become available in the coming days.

3. PLAYING FOR KEEPS

With both Ekblad and Weegar sidelined, rookie defenseman Brady Keeper was given an opportunity to show the coaching staff what he's got during today's tilt.

In 15:56 of ice time, the 24-year-old recorded one shot, one hit and one giveaway He also saw 1:19 on the power play while quarterbacking the team's second unit.

After appearing in one game with Florida during the 2018-19 campaign, Keeper tallied six goals, 12 assists and 118 penalty minutes in 61 AHL games this year.

During the team's "Return to Play" training camp, Quenneville didn't rule out the possibility that one of Florida's rookies could crack the lineup in the postseason.

"I think we're trying to let these guys know how we want to play and how we can play," Quenneville said. "You never know how things are going to play out."

4. SECOND CHANCES

Haula said the Panthers were a bit too "one-and-done" against the Lightning. By the time the final buzzer sounded, they had mustered just 41 shot attempts and 17 scoring chances against the Lightning, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. 

"We got some chances, but there wasn't a whole lot of puck possession," Haula said. "We didn't really get our cycle game. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can handle the puck and be strong on the puck."

During the regular season, Florida averaged 56.71 shot attempts per 60 minutes.

"That's an area that we have to dial in," Haula said. "I feel like we have a group that wants to play with the puck. It's hard. It was noticeable today. Tampa had the puck pretty much the whole game, and we didn't. They controlled play."

5. ISLAND TIME

Things are about to get real.

Following today's exhibition, the 10th-seeded Panthers (35-26-8) will have just a few more days of practice before kicking off their best-of-five series against the seventh-seeded Islanders (35-23-10) in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Saturday.

"We've got to put that time to good use," Boyle said.

Heading into the series, Quenneville said he wants to see his players "get angry" after how they played against the Lightning and embrace the challenge ahead.

"There's a lot of different factors you can say to get you motivated," Quenneville said. "But if [playing in that series] doesn't' get you excited, you're in trouble."

The Islanders will face the New York Rangers in an exhibition tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

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