Tampa Bay Lightning strike Florida Panthers in Home Opener

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning started off the 2019-20 season strong with a 5-2 victory over their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers at the Amalie Arena.

The moment each and every one of us in the Bolts Nation has been waiting for has finally arrived! Everyone’s favorite season, hockey season, is in full swing as the Tampa Bay Lightning charged into the Amalie Arena to take on their in-state rival, the Florida Panthers, in the 2019-20 Home Opener.

The Tampa Bay Lightning got off to a bit of a rocky start as the referees started blowing their whistles almost immediately. Less than two minutes into the Home Opener and the referees were sending defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to the sin bin for Tripping against Panthers forward Mike Hoffman.

The Panthers got a few quality chances during their Power Play opportunity, but the Lightning’s penalty kill was able to hold strong and keep the Cats out of the net. Special teams have always been a bit of a sticking point for the Lightning. It was refreshing to see them come up successful in their first kill of the season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning was about to get a Power Play of their own when the Bolts took the proverbial bull by the horns and put one past Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Lightning the all-important early lead. It would be last season’s leading goal scorer, Nikita Kucherov, who would get things started for the Bolts. The assists on the goal would go to defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forward Mathieu Joseph.

There would be a stoppage in play around the halfway point in the first period. A shot would deflect off the mask of Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, causing it to dislodge. Play was halted momentarily as Vasy checked to make sure his mask was still in working order. Thankfully, it was. Crisis averted. Game on!

The Panthers would go on the offensive following the goal by Kucherov. The Panthers would get eight shots on goal following the tally from Kucherov before the Lightning would register a single shot on goal. The only upside to this is the Panthers were unable to break through and put one in the back of the net.

Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov had a really good scoring chance in the final two minutes of the first period. Thankfully, Vasilevskiy was able to turn the puck away and preserve the lead for the Lightning heading into the first intermission.

When the buzzer sounded to end the first period of play, the Lightning would lead the Panthers 1-0. While the Lightning made up some ground in the shots on goal department in the final minutes of the period, the Panthers would still outshoot the Bolts 12-8 in the first 20 minutes of play.

If the Bolts wanted to hold onto the lead they made for themselves in the first period, they would have to be a little more aggressive with the puck in the second frame. Regrettably, it took a little longer than some would’ve liked for the Lightning to get going in the second.

It took almost two minutes before the Lightning would get their first shot on goal. In that same period of time, the Panthers would register four shots on goal. Even more regrettably, the Panthers would turn that final shot on goal into a goal from Mike Hoffman.

Adding insult to injury, moments later, the Lightning would find themselves on yet another penalty kill as Sergachev would be sent off for two minutes for Holding. The second-period penalty would be Sergachev’s second penalty of the evening.

The Panthers definitely brought some strong offense to the Lightning during the power play. If it weren’t for a couple of well-timed errors, the Bolts may have been in some trouble. Thankfully, the Lightning escaped their second kill of the night relatively unscathed.

The Tampa Bay Lightning would get a power play of their own as the second period progressed. At 8:27 in the second, Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau would be given a one-way ticket to the sin bin for Hooking against Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli.

So…there was both good news and bad news that came next. The bad news is the Panthers would kill the penalty and return to full strength. The good news is, no sooner than the Panthers killed the penalty, the Lightning would strike! Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk would pick up his first goal as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the back half of the second period, Mikhail Sergachev would eat a high stick from a Panther on his way to the ice. It came as a surprise to absolutely no one the referees decided to put their whistles in their pocket on this one. We’d love to say we’re shocked, but we’re not that convincing of a liar.

When the second period of play would come to a close, the Lightning would lead the Panthers 2-1. Once again, the Panthers would outmuscle the Bolts in terms of Shots on Goal. The Panthers outshot the Bolts 16-9 in the second period for a two-period total of 28-17. This is something the Lightning would desperately need to quell in the third period.

The Tampa Bay Lightning definitely came out in the third period like they had something to prove. The Bolts kept the pressure on the Panthers, forcing Sergei Bobrovsky to make some serious saves in the first two minutes of play. None of these shots made it to the back of the net, but definitely a good start for the Bolts.

Things would start to heat up around the five-minute mark of the period with a bit of pushing and shoving in front of the Panthers net. It would all start with Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck, who was less than pleased he was bested by Nikita Kucherov. No penalties would be assessed as a result of this.

Moments later, the Panthers would end up with a power play as Victor Hedman was sent to the box for two minutes for Hooking against Evgenii Dadonov. Thanks to a stellar save by Andrei Vasilevskiy and some solid penalty killing, the Lightning would escape their third kill of the night unscathed.

Ironically enough, it would be Victor Hedman who would draw the next power play for the Bolts. Panthers forward Frank Vatrano would get whistled for Interference against Hedman. Regrettably, the man advantage didn’t initially work out to the Lightning’s advantage.

Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck would find himself on a breakaway where he would beat Vasilevskiy to tie the game. Thankfully, the Panthers wouldn’t be celebrating for very long. A mere 45 seconds after the Trocheck goal, Ondrej Palat would pick up his first goal of the season to retake the lead for the Bolts. The assists on the Palat goal would go to Alex Killorn (2) and Mikhail Sergachev (3).

Ondrej Palat looked fantastic in tonight’s encounter. He was faster than he has been in years and made some very intelligent moves on the ice. If this is the beginning of his journey this season, we can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for Lightning fans.

Moments later, the Lightning would find themselves on the penalty kill as forward Gemel Smith gets whistled for Illegal Check to the Head. While we concur the Panthers definitely should’ve been whistled for a trip on this play, checks to the head are serious business. We would be surprised if the NHL Department of Player Safety doesn’t take a closer look at this one.

About 46 seconds after the call to Smith, the Lightning and Panthers would be headed to a 4-on-4 situation as Mike Hoffman was sent to the sin bin for Hooking against Alex Killorn. The Lightning would use this opportunity to extend their lead over the Panthers with a goal by Pat Maroon. This would be Maroon’s first goal as a member of the Lightning. The assists on the Maroon goal would go to Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov.

There was a little over two minutes left in the third period when Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville would pull goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to get an extra attacker on the ice. Unfortunately for the Panthers, this strategy didn’t exactly end well.

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The Panthers were able to deny Steven Stamkos an empty-net goal. Needless to say, this will probably haunt Stammer for a couple of days. The good news for the Lightning is, this is the last goal the Panthers would stop.

Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak would pick up an empty-net goal off a spectacular face-off win to put the final nail in the coffin of the Panthers and extend the Lightning’s lead to three goals. The Tampa Bay Lightning would ultimately defeat the Florida Panthers 5-2 in the first game of the 2019-20 season.

While there were some things that can be improved upon throughout the course of the season, this was an all-around solid effort by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Eight players would make their way to the scoresheet against the Panthers tonight. Two of these players would score their first goal as a member of the Lightning.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Pat Maroon would both pick up their first goals in Lightning blue tonight. Shattenkirk would pick up his goal at the halfway point in the second and Maroon would score his goal just before the 14-minute mark in the third.

Mikhail Sergachev had a terrific outing tonight, picking up three assists against the Panthers. Also having a banner night was Alex Killorn, who picked up two assists. As we mentioned earlier, Ondrej Palat had a stellar outing tonight as well.

Andrei Vasilevskiy started off the 2019-20 season with some strong numbers as well. Vasilevskiy faced 37 shots on goal tonight, stopping all but two of them. This gave Vasy a Save Percentage of .946 to start the season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has Friday off before they make their way to the BB&T Center in Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers in what is sure to be an epic rematch between these two Sunshine State rivals. The puck will drop at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday night.

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If tonight’s game is any indication of what the Bolts Nation can expect this season, this is going to be a very interesting couple of months. Expectations are set to max after the season the Lightning had last year. Tonight’s victory is definitely a solid step in the right direction towards making their way back to the top.