TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers open their seasons with a back-to-back home-and-home series, and as the rivalry moves to Sunrise, Fla., there was much to appreciate in the new looks on both sides in Friday’s season opener.
The Lightning pulled out a 5-3 win, and while much of the attention coming in was on the healthy return of Steven Stamkos, the buzz after the game was the line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde. Palat had two goals and Point had a goal and two assists, showing speed and chemistry together on the ice.
“They were fantastic,” Stamkos said. “I think it was pretty evident in watching the game how good they were. They pound the puck, they make great plays, and they’re all smart players. That line carried us and played extremely well, and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”
Florida, after a strong preseason, came out on the short end, rallying to tie the game going into the third but giving up three goals in the final period. It was an encouraging debut in the first game under new coach Bob Boughner.
“We had a really good training camp with him getting familiar with everyone,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “The coaching staff does a great job getting the message through to us. It’s nice to have them getting us to be comfortable with the system and knowing it so it comes like second nature.”
The Lightning had their first Opening Night with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, and he made early saves to keep Tampa Bay in control until the scoring kicked in later. When a two-goal lead dwindled to one and Florida picked up a power play with 3:11 to play, he stepped up, preserving the lead until an empty-net goal could put it away.
“When he was 21 years old, he played in the Stanley Cup final in the United Center. This was probably a walk in the park for him,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He was composed. The more you watch him play, you get that feeling of ‘This guy is going to be hard to score on.'”
The Lightning got a promising debut from 19-year-old rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev as well, while the Panthers showed off their depth, with eight different players getting a goal or assist.
“There were good efforts tonight throughout the entire lineup,” Boughner said. “Tomorrow night we get back out there and that’s the best thing about it. If we play like that again, I like our chances.”
Florida contained Stamkos to one assist and that came on a power-play goal, but that was a tiebreaking goal early in the third that put Tampa Bay ahead for good.
“It ended up being a power-play goal that broke our back, but we knew coming in that we had to try to be disciplined and not let them get on the power play,” Boughner said.
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