Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said his assist in overtime of Thursday's season-opening 3-2 victory over Florida was "nothing special."
The Panthers, trying to kill a four-on-three Lightning power play, dumped the puck into the Tampa Bay zone, and all three of their skaters headed to the bench for a line change. Bishop raced to the left boards to retrieve the puck and quickly flicked a two-line pass up to defenseman Victor Hedman at the Florida blue line.
"I was looking for an odd-man rush," Bishop said. "Didn't think it'd be a four-on-zero."
Hedman cruised in all alone on goalie Roberto Luongo and beat him with a wrist shot just over a minute into overtime to send the sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena into jubilation. Thanks to the new overtime rules, which force teams to switch sides after regulation, the Panthers, who had the longer change, had no shot to catch the 6-foot-6 Swede. "It made the whole play," Hedman said.
Said coach Jon Cooper: "If that's what the NHL was looking for (with the rules change), they got it."
Tampa Bay got what it wanted - two points - as it opened its season of great expectations. Though the Lightning, picked by many to be a contender in the Eastern Conference, didn't play its best, it found a way to win a physical game that was tied for most of the first 60 minutes.
"By no means were we sharp," Cooper said. "But I thought the boys gamed it out."
Bishop made 19 saves, reporting no problems with his surgically repaired right wrist. "I thought he was in command of his game," Cooper said.
Steven Stamkos looked like his old self, logging a team-high 23 minutes, 16 seconds of ice time while clicking with 2014 Calder Trophy finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat as his linemates. Though Tampa Bay didn't generate a ton of five-on-five chances, it cashed in on three of its seven power plays, with Johnson and Ryan Callahan (on a five-on-three) each scoring. The Lightning penalty kill went 2-for-2, including thwarting a Panthers power play in the final minutes of regulation.
"Special teams bailed us out," Cooper said. "You've got to win those wars."
There were plenty of scrums, with defenseman Radko Gudas delivering two of the biggest hits, an elbow/shoulder into the head of Scottie Upshall (which wasn't a penalty) and a hip check to knock 2014 No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad into the boards.
And Tampa Bay bounced back after trailing 1-0 to escape with a victory.
"Good teams find a way to win," Hedman said. "And that's what we did."
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Lightning vs. Senators, 7 p.m. Saturday, Amalie Arena
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM