By Kenneth Cross
TAMPA – The Florida Panthers are doing best to stoke a rivalry with the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, but with the history of these franchises, the Panthers have a long way to go to get up to speed. However, on Saturday night in Amalie Arena, a few steps were taken in order to get the Lightning’s attention.
It was a rough, grind-it-out type of game that had a Lightning strike in the end.
Lightning center Brayden Point took a long pass up ice from Ondrej Palat. Point deeked Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and then shoved the puck in the five-hole as Tampa Bay took a 3-2 overtime win and dealt the Florida Panthers their fourth loss in a row.
Palat peeled the puck away from Carter Verhaeghe and circled around the net to the right side. He let go a pass that skated across the ice and onto Point’s blade. He did the rest as he scored his fifth goal on Palat’s fifth assist of the season.
“I haven’t liked our overtimes, so we wanted to put a little more pressure on no matter where we are on the ice,” commented Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The fact that he stayed with it down there and took it away from him and then the wherewithall to see Pointer and get it up there. You could tell he was a little tired. He’s a lefty so he has to get it around the net and he did and Pointer finished.”
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had another stellar save of a potential game winner off of the blade of defenseman Aaron Ekblad just before Point’s heroics. He stopped the puck with his glove which he crossed over his body.
“We had a full breakaway and we missed,” said Cooper. “‘Vas’ makes a big time save and then we get a breakaway and we score. It was a bit of trading chances and the goalie gave us a chance to win the game. We have had the luxury of watching him for a long time.”
Vasilevskiy stopped 26 of 28 pucks in a game that pushed the Lightning to 7-3-3 and left them six points off of what had been a hot Panthers team, who is at 10-2-3.
It was fitting that Point do the honors on a night when he got into a fist-fight with Florida winger Patric Hornqvist at 8:46 into the second period.
“In this sport, some players do it more than others and players have hung around because they do that and Pointer probably fights once or twice a year,” noted Cooper. “It’s a respect thing and when players see one of your key players, it gets you into the game.”
As Point had a five-minute fighting major, Florida got on the board twice when Jonathan Huberdeau scored from the left side on a shot at 12:59. Then, fourth-line forward Eetu Luostarinen tapped in a shot from Aaron Ekblad at 13:35 to tie the game at 2-2.
From there, Cooper didn’t like the fact that the Panthers controlled the puck so much in the third period with no push back from Tampa Bay. The key though was the lack of opportunities by the Cats.
“You can look at it two different ways – we were defending well, but it looked like only one line was generating any offense and so I love the result, but definitely I thought we could lean on it a little more than in the third,” Cooper explained.
Pat Maroon opened scoring with a power play goal that was his second goal of the season at 12:17 in the first period. Ross Colton passed the puck across the top of the crease in front of Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and Maroon chipped the puck in for a 1-0 Lightning lead.
Alex Killorn added his sixth assist on Maroon’s goal.
Defenseman Victor Hedman netted his second marker of the season at 9:02 in the second , scoring from the bottom of the left face-off circle.
“There were times I think we could have much more poise,” Cooper said. “You look back and you think maybe we were glad to get that game to overtime and then see whats going to happen. They had the puck much more than we did in the third but they didn’t have any chances.”