ESTERO — The Lightning has some tough decisions to make to finalize its roster, and Thursday night's 3-2 overtime victory over the Panthers at Germain Arena didn't make them any easier.
The kids shined again, especially the line of C Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik, as Tampa Bay (5-1-0) overcame a 2-0 second-period deficit.
"Those three, especially after (Thursday's) performance, have made a strong case to make this team," coach Jon Cooper said.
Johnson had a goal and assisted on Nikita Kucherov's winner with 55 seconds left in overtime. Palat assisted on Johnson's goal, and Panik's shorthanded goal, at the end of a two-on-one with Marty St. Louis 6:30 into the third period, tied the score 2-2.
Add solid goaltending by Ben Bishop, who stopped 26 of 28 shots, and you have a pretty satisfying win despite two power-play goals by Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau and that Tampa Bay at times had trouble getting out of its end. "We've got a lot of work to do," Cooper said.
Johnson, Palat and Panik, who played together for 11/2 seasons at AHL Norfolk and Syracuse, have done their share over three games. Johnson has a goal and three points. Palat and Panik have two goals and three points each.
"Difficult is a good thing," Cooper said of the decisions to be made. "We'd rather have that than sitting here knowing our team was picked 21/2 weeks ago."
"Hopefully," Johnson said, "we'll stick around."
MALONE OUT: LW Ryan Malone did not play because of what the team called an upper-body injury. Cooper said he was held out as a precaution. "Put it this way," Cooper said, "he's in no jeopardy of missing regular-season games." Even so, any Malone injury raises a red flag. He is coming off an injury-filled 2012-13, has not played more than 70 games in any of five seasons with the Lightning and made it a priority this season to stay healthy. Creating more questions was Cooper's acknowledgement the injury "wasn't hockey-related."
"Who knows?" Cooper said. "He may have slept wrong. I have no idea. Like I said, it's not a concern."
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Brett Connolly, normally a right wing, played center on a line between St. Louis and Jonathan Drouin, though the move apparently was more about keeping Drouin at wing than moving Connolly.
Still, Connolly, who played center in several games last season for Cooper at Syracuse, didn't hurt his case to make the team by showing versatility. "I'm a fan of Connolly's," Cooper said. "Every time I've been behind the bench and had the opportunity to coach Brett Connolly, he hasn't disappointed me. He's done well."
ODDS AND ENDS: J.T. Brown took Malone's spot in the lineup. … Panthers RW Kris Versteeg played his first game since March 12, when he sustained a knee injury on a hit from Lightning D Radko Gudas. … The game was delayed five minutes by dim lights. … Attendance was 3,451.
First Period—1, Fla, Huberdeau 1 (Gilbert, Campbell), 5:26 (pp). Penalties—Barberio, TB (high-stick), 4:41; Aulie, TB (roughing), 9:13; Boyes, Fla (interference), 14:19.
Second Period—2, Fla, Huberdeau 2 (Campbell, Gilbert), 2:47 (pp). 3, TB, Johnson 1 (Palat, Kucherov), 8:32 (pp). Penalties—Cote, TB (interference), 2:06; Fla bench (too many men), 6:57; Fla bench (too many men), 18:33.
Third Period—4, TB, Panik 2 (St. Louis), 6:30 (sh). Penalties—Brewer, TB (slashing), 5:23.
OT—5, TB, Kucherov 1 (Barberio, Johnson), 4:04. Penalties—None. Shots—Fla 11-7-9-1—28. TB 5-8-6-6—25. PP opps—Fla 2 of 2; TB 1 of 1. Goalies—Fla, Thomas (10 shots-9 saves), Markstrom 0-0-3 (8:33 second, 15-13). TB, Bishop 2-0-0 (28-26).