Real-Time Commentary: Panthers 2 vs. Lightning 7


7:15 p.m.: Tonight marks the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2013/2014 home opening game when our Bolts take on their intrastate rivals, the Florida Panthers.

Sep 28, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) lays on the ice after a check into the boards by Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Richard Panik (71) as a fight breaks out in the second period at the BB

With Tasha Meares, Bolts by the Bay’s editor, live and in-person at the Tampa Bay Times Forum tonight (lucky, lucky), and therefore unable to give her usual period-by-period Knee Jerk Reactions, it has fallen to me to keep you, Bolts by the Bay readers, up to date on tonight’s game. Rather than a period-by-period update, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit for this night, and as the game progresses I’ll be giving you my real-time commentary on the action – good, bad, ugly, and quite possibly woefully misinformed at times.

All that said, I hope you’ll check in regularly to see my thoughts on how the game progresses, and I hope you’ll leave your own thoughts in the comments box below.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are riding a wave of optimism coming off a tough season-opening three-game road trip. The Lightning return home tonight with a record of 2-1, including a win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Teddy Purcell told the media, “It was good to get on the road early with the guys and then to come home with four out of six points. That’s a pretty good start for us.”

Tonight’s game against the Panthers kicks off a seven-game homestand in which the Bolts will rematch both the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks, and also sees recent Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings, come to town. In short: the Bolts are home, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

The Panthers come into tonight’s game with a 1-2 record, one of those losses being the 7-0 shellacking they received at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. The Panthers win came on opening night against the Dallas Stars.

Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas, he of the year-long hiatus and solid Dad-stache, went down with what’s being described as a minor groin-pull early in the Panthers’ last game against the Philadelphia Flyers. While the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, it looks like Jacob Markstrom will be getting the start in net.

The Lightning have run into their own injury troubles of late. Tom Pyatt suffered a broken collar bone in the Bolts’ 3-2 win over the Sabres. It was Pyatt’s first game, while rookie Richard Panik was a healthy scratch for the Lightning. Tonight, Panik returns to the lineup, and its believed he’ll be slotted in alongside Valtteri Filppul and Tuesday night’s overtime hero, Alex Killorn, on the second line.

In the crease, Ben Bishop will be making his third straight start for the Lightning. Whether that means he is establishing himself as the Lightning’s starter, or if Jon Cooper is simply riding the hot hand, is anybody’s guess.

Gametime is 7:30 EST, and I’ll be updating this post regularly. So if you’re wondering what an avid/obsessed Lightning fan thinks, or you can’t see the game tonight yourself, check in from time to time. And don’t forget to leave your comments. Even if it’s just to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Go Bolts!

7:36 p.m.:  Prior to puck-drop, Lightning players are being introduced to the fans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.  They save Marty St. Louis for last, and it’s justified — the new captain gets a huge reaction from the crowd.  Other notable reactions (as seen on TV): Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula.

7:39 p.m.: Stamkos face-off watch — 0-1.

7:43 p.m.: Big save by Ben Bishop with Shawn Matthias speeding down on a partial breakaway.  17:00 remaining in the 1st. 

7:47 p.m.: Valtteri Filppula draws a penalty after creating a good scoring chance using the combination of his speed and stickhandling abilities.  Filppula danced right in on goal and drew a hook.  Another great play by the new signee.   Earning his money in the early-going of the season.  Bolts PP upcoming, 13:48 remaining in the first.

7:52 p.m.: Seconds after a lackluster powerplay ends, Martin St. Louis SCORES off a nice feed from Steven Stamkos in tight.  Bolts get their first lead of the year, 1-0, with 10:40 currently remaining in the first.  Assists to Stamkos and Purcell.  Time: 8:13.

 7:59 p.m.: Richard Panik, fresh out of the press box, takes a high-sticking penalty with 8:05 remaining.  

8:03 p.m.: At the end of a solid PK by the Lightning, Steven Stamkos SCORES his first goal of the year, redirecting a pass from Marty St. Louis over Jacob Markstrom.  The Lightning’s first short-handed goal since the end of the 2012 season.  Note to Guy Boucher: this is why you play superstars on the penalty kill.  (Assists: St. Louis, Hedman)

8:12 p.m.: Victor Hedman takes a penalty with under 20 seconds remaining.  Bolts finish up on the PK and will open up the 2nd the same.

FIRST PERIOD END, 8:24 p.m.: This was by far the best period of the young season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Perhaps it has a little something to do with their competition, but their game finally seems to have rounded out tonight.  The defense is playing its five-man system but the offense is buzzing in the Panthers’ zone.

The period was highlighted by a number of good individual performances by the Bolts.  Steven Stamkos had what I believe is his best period of hockey in the new season, and Teddy Purcell appears to have stepped it up a notch with his new line.  Valtteri Filppula looks like he has the puck on a string.  Radko Gudas is as physical as ever.

Marty St. Louis passed up what could have been the game’s third goal when he fed a point-blank chance over to Steven Stamkos.  Stamkos seemed to be as surprised by the pass as anyone, and couldn’t quite get in position to bury the shot.  Other than that, there are few things to criticize about this period.

The Lightning outshot the Panthers 9-6 at the end of one period, and the Panthers had few if any dangerous chances after the first few minutes of play.

Notable stats: Steven Stamkos is struggling in the faceoff circle again, winning just 1 of 5 draws in that period.  Valtteri Filppula, who’s won 4 of 5, came on the ice to take a draw for Stammer near the end of the period.

Radko Gudas led the Lightning in icetime with 7:29.  That puts him on pace to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of the 21: 35 he played against the Sabres.  It appears that Coach Jon Cooper and defensive Coach Rick Bowness see something positive in Gudas’s play and are rewarding him with minutes.

Marty St. Louis passed Bobby Orr on the all-time list with his 916th career point.  He scored his 917th later in the period.

Scoring: St. Louis (Stamkos, Purcell), Stamkos (St. Louis, Hedman)

Period 2 coming up.

8:33 p.m.: Panthers score with 43 seconds remaining on the PK, 19:01 in the 2nd period.  Brad Boyes SCORES on a strange hop off the boards that Radko Gudas whiffed on.  No fault on Bishop here, if you’re wondering.  2-1 Lightning.

8:37 p.m.: The Lightning respond well to the goal with several good shifts in a row.  Lots of pressure in the Panthers’ zone.  The Panthers had a great scoring chance at the other end, but Bishop kept it out and Eric Brewer was there to sweep away the rebound.

8:38 p.m.: Bolts take another penatly.  This time it’s Labrie, two minutes for interference.

8:40 p.m.: Seconds after the Labrie penalty, Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau takes a penalty for holding Val Filppula.  4-on-3 with 14:40 remaining.

8:43 p.m.: 12:32  remaining and we’re 5-on-5.

8:44 p.m.: Panthers heading right back to the box.  Bolts going back on the powerplay.

8:46 p.m.: Markstrom robs Stamkos in close.  1:44 remaining on the PP.

8:50 p.m.: Powerplay over, current shots: 13-8 Lightning.

8:55 p.m.: Steven Stamkos has an absolutely monster shift, controlling the puck, throwing hits, and finally STAMKOS SCORES off the Matt Carle pass from behind the net.  Good to see Malone getting in on the offense as well.  Stamkos from Carle and Malone.

8:59 p.m.: B.J. Crombeen drops the gloves for the first time in the year and, hey hey, probably wins a decision vs. Erik Gudbranson.  In other news, in the Stamkos faceoff watch, I’m happy to report Stammer is currently 8-5 in draws.  Excellent news for Lightning fans.

9:07 p.m.: Ondrej Palat SCORES!  One-timer, beautiful setup from Alex Killorn.  Palat from Killorn and, get this, Ben Bishop.  4-1 Bolts with 3:00 left in the 2nd at the time of this update.

SECOND PERIOD END, 9:25 p.m.: If the Lightning were good in the first period, they might have been even better in the second (despite giving up a goal).  They’re going into the dressing room with a comfortable 4-1 lead in a game they’ve dominated for the most part.

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree, but I’m going to say this anyway: This might be the best game we’ve ever seen Stamkos play.  Stamkos is winning faceoffs, throwing hits, stick-checking to cause turnovers, and, oh yeah, he’s scoring too.  Given his two-way play tonight, I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen Stammer as dominant as he is tonight.

Of course, the Florida Panthers aren’t exactly the Pittsburgh Penguins (whom we’ll see on Saturday).  But still.  The Lightning are making a weak team look weak, and that’s what good teams do.  Puck-possession is tilted heavily in the Lightning’s favor.  Ryan Malone looked like he belonged in that period.

Notable stats: The Lightning are out-shooting the Panthers 19-14, out-hitting them 22-10, and have won 27 faceoffs to the Panthers’ 15.  St. Louis, Stamkos, Carle, and Gudas are all sitting at +3 heading into the third.  Gudas is credited with 6 hits.  St. Louis leads the Lightning in icetime with 14:38.

Scoring: Boyes FLA (Campbell, Fleischmann), Stamkos TB (Carle, Malone… interesting), Palat (Killorn, Bishop)

Final frame coming up.

9:31 p.m.: Period start.  Interesting note: The Lightning are credited with 19 shots and a whopping 11 scoring chances.

9:35 p.m.: Bit of a break-down by the Lightning defense and Jonathan Huberdeau SCORES for the Panthers after jumping behind the Lightning D, breaking away, and putting a nice move on Bishop.  4-2 Lightning with 16:00 remaining in the game.  Gomez and Versteeg with assists.

9:38 p.m.: Florida’s Marcel Goc fires the puck over the glass from the defensive zone and takes a delay of game penalty.  Bolts with another PP.

9:41 p.m.: Valtteri Filppula SCORES after ripping a wrist shot by Markstrom near the end of the powerplay.  Great effort by the Bolts to hold the puck in after several near-clears by the Panthers.  Filppula from Carle and Killorn.

9:44 p.m.: You’re not going to believe this, but Filppula SCORES again, this time on a ripped back-hand while forcing his way toward the net.  Filppula is proving all the doubters wrong in this young season.  It’s now 6-2 Lightning and that’s the end of Jacob Markstrom’s night.  With Tim Thomas injured, Scott Clemenson is in for the Cats with 10:46 remaining in the 3rd.  Filppula scores, from Purcell and Salo.  Purcell is quietly having an outstanding game.

9:50 p.m.: When it rains it pours for the Panthers.  They take a penalty with 9:00 to go.  Winchester for tripping.

9:52 p.m.: Hat trick!  Steven Stamkos SCORES, ripping a Sami Salo pass by Scott Clemenson.  A PP goal, giving Stamkos three goals and an assist so far tonight, and making the score 7-2.  What a home opener.  Stamkos from Salo and Purcell with 7:35 remaining.

9:57 p.m.: P.C. Labrie takes another penalty.  Panthers PP.

10:01 p.m.: Lightning kill off the penalty and then shortly after there’s a scramble in front of the Panthers’ net that leads to a scuffle after the whistle.  Penalties coming.  Scottie Upshall and Victor Hedman off.  4-on-4 hockey.  3:00 remaining. 

10:05 p.m.: Brad Boyes smokes Ben Bishop with an elbow and somehow Matt Carle goes to the box for cross-checking.  Replay shows a shove, no cross-check in view.

GAME OVER, 10:27 p.m.: I realize we were playing the lowly Florida Panthers, widely thought to be a front-runner to finish last place in the league.  And I realize that Jacob Markstrom had a poor game.  But still, you’re going to have to excuse me for celebrating one of the most dominant wins in recent Lightning memory, which came at the home opening, against an intrastate rival.

You’ll also have to forgive me my undisguised optimism about so many excellent individual performances.  I fully believe we’ve just seen Steven Stamkos’s best overall performance in an NHL game.  Valtteri Filppula is making Steve Yzerman look like a genius.  Ryan Malone looks like he’s finally caught up to the game.  Yes, it was a win over the Panthers, but you’re going to have to take a step back and let me be excited for a minute.

This was the night where Jon Cooper’s system finally clicked.  In the first few games, there were times when the penalty kill looked good, but not the powerplay, or vice versa.  And the defense at 5-on-5 looked good, but the offense was struggling.  Well, tonight, the Lightning played a complete game.  It was good timing.

Stamkos finished the night with 3 goals and an assist, Filppula picked up a pair, and Teddy Purcell quietly gets credit for 3 helpers.  I think those three were the Lightning’s best players.  Stamkos’s game was particularly promising, because we’ve never seen him quite so ferocious in both zones.  He was stick-checking, body checking (4 hits), he even blocked a shot… and oh yeah, he scored a hat trick and added an assist.  I can’t say enough about how good he looked tonight.

Ben Bishop’s performance will no doubt go a little under the radar, but he was good for the Lightning again.  He stepped up when he needed to and made the saves you would expect an NHL starter to make.

The Lightning wound up out-shooting the Panthers 28-21, but that’s a little bit deceiving.  The gameflow is better reflected in the final score, 7-2.  The Lightning dominated.  Hits wound up 27-15 in the Lightning’s favor.  Faceoffs: 37-22 Lightning.

Third period scoring: Huberdeau FLA (Gomez, Versteeg); Filppula TB (Carle, Killorn); Filppula  2 TB (Purcell, Salo); Stamkos 3 TB (Salo, Purcell)

Marty St. Louis led all Lightning players in icetime with 21:28.  Radko Gudas finished with 8, count ’em, 8, hits.

Enjoy it, Lightning fans.  The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming to town on Saturday, so our fuzzy warm feeling might not last long.

Final score: 7-2 Lightning.

Three Stars: Steven Stamkos (3G, 1A), Val Filppula (2G), Teddy Purcell (3A)