TAMPA — Preseason games generally are not good predictors of regular-season success. The Lightning was 5-1-0 in 2008 before finishing second-to-last in the league.
Still, given all the changes for Tampa Bay — from new coaches to new players to a new, complicated system — its 4-1-1 mark after Saturday night's 4-1 victory over the Panthers in its preseason finale at the St. Pete Times Forum is notable.
C Steven Stamkos' two goals led the way. C Vinny Lecavalier scored and had two points. LW Sean Bergenheim scored, and RW Marty St. Louis had two assists. G Mike Smith made 20 saves for his second win in two nights.
Even the power play, which entered a miserable 4-for-37, converted twice.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on a fluky goal with 6:09 left in the first period when a puck fired into the offensive zone by D Mike Weaver hit the glass and ricocheted to C Mike Santorelli, who scored from the front of the net. The Lightning also seemed sluggish as it was outshot 10-5.
All was reversed in the second period. Tampa Bay scored three times and outshot Florida 18-5 on the way to a 40-21 advantage.
Lecavalier made the score 1-1 with a power play goal 4:32 into the period, driving on left wing and going high to the stick side on G Jacob Markstrom. Stamkos made it 2-1 at 7:22, flipping a shot past Markstrom after a tenacious play from RW Steve Downie, who fought through two Florida players to get Stamkos the puck.
Stamkos' one-timer on the power play, on a dazzling blast into the top, short-side corner despite Markstrom's anticipation of the shot, made it 3-1 at 9:20.
STATS: Stamkos ended the preseason with four goals in four games. St. Louis' seven points, all on assists, led the team.
GAINING GROUND? Though the power play generally sputtered during the preseason, puck possession was good, and several shots hit posts. "It's exactly what we expected," coach Guy Boucher said. "Power play is the one thing that depends on the smallest things, and it takes the longest to get chemistry. The guys have to get used to each other right now." All of which seemed a fancy way of saying, as Boucher finally did, that the power play "is not sharp."
LINE MEN: Boucher continued an experiment with Ryan Malone on a line with Lecavalier and LW Simon Gagne. Moving Malone allowed Downie, who had been on Lecavalier's line, to be reunited with Stamkos and St. Louis, one of last season's best combinations.
Boucher also has experimented with a line of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos.
"You know what it does, it sparks up things," Boucher said. "Once in a while, you see the game is going okay, it's not enough for me. It's like, 'Okay, let's get our M-16 out.' "
ODDS AND ENDS: Final cuts might come today. … The Lightning is 17-10-1 against the Panthers in the preseason. … RW Teddy Purcell (charley horse), C Dominic Moore (groin), D Mathieu Roy, D Matt Smaby, D Randy Jones (finger), G Cedrick Desjardins (groin/abdomen) and LW Chris Durno were scratched.
First Period—1, Florida, Santorelli 2 (Weaver, Allen), 13:51. Penalties—Reasoner, Fla (hooking), 8:56; Downie, TB (cross-checking), 10:02; Kubina, TB (tripping), 14:34.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 3 (St. Louis), 4:32 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 3 (Downie, St. Louis), 7:22. 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 4 (Lecavalier, Kubina), 9:20 (pp). Penalties—Peters, Fla (holding), 3:25; McArdle, Fla, major (fighting), 8:05; Thompson, TB, major (fighting), 8:05; Reasoner, Fla (interference), 9:10; Wideman, Fla (slashing), 10:21; Allen, Fla (cross-checking), 12:00.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Bergenheim 1 (Perrin, Vernace), 7:44. Penalties—Lecavalier, TB (slashing), 1:48; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 8:20; Ohlund, TB (hooking), 11:48. Shots on Goal—Florida 10-5-6—21. Tampa Bay 5-18-17—40. Power-play opportunities—Florida 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. Goalies—Florida, Markstrom 0-1-0 (40 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 2-0-0 (21-20). A—11,404 (19,758).