TAMPA BAY, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – After a tough closeout to the 2018-2019 season, The Bolts bounced back with a 5-2 home opener victory versus in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. In Thursday night’s home opener, not only did we see many new Lightning faces, including Carter Verhaeghe, Pat Maroon, and Kevin Shattenkirk, but we saw a new defensive mentality on the ice.
Early in the first period the Bolts focused on playing defensively. Coach Jon Cooper mentioned in an earlier press conference that after last season, they were going to focus on defense. It helps that the Lightning have a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Vasilevskiy (Vasy), but they can’t overwork or rely on him–they must do better protecting him. Fortunately backup goalie McElhinney has shown his talent in the net as well during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Palat came out very physical, removing guys from plays and helping the Bolts have extended offense time. As the Lightning relentlessly attacked the Panthers goal, eventually Sergachev positioned himself to get a pass off Kucherov for the first goal of the night.
In the 2nd period, Panthers’ Mike Hoffman tied the game, but that didn’t last long because Sergachev wasn’t done making his point to the Panthers. Halfway into the 2nd period, Sergachev set up newcomer Shattenkirk to land his first goal as a Bolt, putting the Lightning up 2-1. Florida kept at the Lightning net, but the defense was consistent in preventing any further goals that period.
Third period could have been anyone’s game as the Panthers’ Vincent Trocheck put a wrist shot on goal. Palat responded with a tip-in, then Hedman found Pat Maroon at the head of the crease to assist him in his NHL debut goal, putting the Bolts up 4-2. Then in the final face-off of the night, defensive player Erik Cernak shot off of a pass from Cirelli to score an empty netter, officially closing out the home opener, Lightning 5, Panthers 2.
In postgame interviews, Palat mentioned that everyone wants to win their home opener and noted the momentum this win gives the Bolts as they head out for their two-week road trip, starting with another game versus the Panthers on Saturday, October 5th at BB&T Center.
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Kasey Hudson is a Tampa team contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org