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Lightning beats Panthers, 2-1, in shootout in regular-season opener

J.T. Miller and Nikita Kucherov scored in the shootout.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is congratulated by defenseman Victor Hedman after the team's shootout victory over the Panthers Saturday at Amalie Arena. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 7, 2018
Updated Oct. 7, 2018

TAMPA — Giving up an early goal was not the way goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy wanted to start the season.

But that's the way it went when Panthers defenseman Jacob McDonald scored just minutes into the first game of the Lightning's season.

Instead of letting that determine how he played the rest of the game, Vasilevskiy responded well.

He made 42 saves in regulation and overtime, and made two stops in a shootout to lead the Lightning to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the Panthers on Saturday night at Amalie Arena in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,092.

"It is huge to have (Vasilevskiy) back there," said center Anthony Cirelli, who had the Lightning's goal, scored shorthanded midway through the third period to tie the score at 1.

"We know that if we make a mistake or give something up, he is there to bail us out all the time."

J.T. Miller and Nikita Kucherov scored in the shootout.

If not for a sluggish start from the Lightning, the game likely would not have reached overtime.

Though Tampa Bay gave up a goal early, it was the offense that struggled mightily in the first period of the season. The Lightning mustered four shots in the opening period, often struggling to set up anything. It also had issues with maintaining possession in the offensive zone.

Whether it was Kucherov missing a chance to fire home a shot from the slot or Alex Killorn whiffing from the circle as Cirelli tried to set him up for a shot, little went well for the Lightning in the offensive zone.

Faceoffs didn't go well, either. The Panthers won 75 percent of them in the first.

Then came the second period.

The Lightning didn't score, but it was not because of a lack of chances. It settled down offensively and provided significantly more pressure on the Florida net, firing 14 shots on goal. After the Panthers outshot the Lightning 16-4 in the first, Florida put just six shots on goal in the second. Faceoff percentages also evened out

Midway through the second, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo had to be helped off the ice after a teammate fell into his right leg. James Reimer replaced him for the rest of the game.

Mathieu Joseph was a part of the resurgent offense in the second as he made his NHL debut. Joseph first elicited cheers from the crowd when he smashed a Florida player against the boards. Not long after that, he stole the puck during a penalty kill and drew a penalty himself when he began to skate through the neutral zone.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he saw nerves from Joseph in the first period, understandable in an NHL debut with his parents watching in the stands. But Joseph said a couple of deep breaths and a few shifts took care of the nerves.

"When it's your first game, you are trying to find some little details to boost your confidence up," Joseph said. "It was awesome. It was good for the confidence, and I built from that."

Joseph also fired off two good shots while on a power play late in the second. But he wasn't alone in failing to score on the power play. The Lightning finished 0-for-3 with the extra man.

The Panthers did not do much better. Florida went on the power play five times, three times in the third, and failed to convert on any of them.
The Panthers didn't score on their fifth power play. Instead, the Lightning did.

Cirelli scored shorthanded with 9:15 left in the third period to tie the score at 1-1, ultimately sending the game to overtime.
Up next, the Lighting faces the Canucks on Thursday at Amalie Arena.