ORLANDO — The Lightning dropped their fourth game of the preseason in fighting fashion Tuesday night at the Amway Center. But coach Jon Cooper liked the effort and wasn’t worried about the result.
Here are three things we learned from the 3-2 loss:
The Lightning and Panthers picked up right where they left off in the summer, with a physical game reminiscent of the ones that characterized their first-round playoff meetings (Tampa Bay won that series 4-2).
With Tuesday’s game carrying veterans on both ends, emotions boiled over 4:42 minutes into the second period when Florida’s Sam Bennett charged into Andrei Vasilevskiy behind the net.
The Lightning immediately swarmed Bennett. Andrej Sustr and Ross Colton were the first to grab him before Mikhail Sergachev, among others, got in on the action. As both teams went for each other, Corey Perry and Owen Tippett edged away from the scrum, throwing punches and taking each other to the ice. Both were sent off for five-minute fighting penalties.
It was an eventful night for the 14,815 fans who made their way out to central Florida to see the brawls.
To Lightning veteran Pat Maroon, the fact that everyone chipped in at some point, especially players like Perry, Boris Katchouk, Colton, Sergachev and Zach Bogosian — all of whom received fighting majors throughout the contest — spoke to the team’s character.
“Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted tonight, losing again, but we built as a team, we grew as a team and we built a lot of character as a team,” Maroon said. “Players stepped up and stuck up for Big Cat (Vasilevskiy) tonight.”
Coach is pleased
Sure, a 1-4-0 preseason start isn’t what the Lightning wanted — ditto for a loss to their in-state rival — but without question Cooper said it was the best game he’s seen from his group this preseason.
“All of those young guys fit in with their lines, they made plays, they did their jobs and so there was a lot of encouraging stuff to come out of that,” Cooper said.
The fact that players who weren’t a part of this rivalry last year — like Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Bogosian, Katchouk — were able to handle the intensity of the game was a good sign, too.
“It shows the organization, guys upstairs and the suits behind the bench, that you want to be here,” Cooper said. “And that’s a big part of our identity, is having each other’s backs and that’s what those guys did. That’s the standard we have here and that’s a good thing.”
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Cooper expects the core pieces who were missing Tuesday — Nikita Kucherov, Ryan McDonagh, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli — to play Thursday.
“These guys have been around the league a little bit now,” Cooper said, “so they know what they need to get ready (for the season opener next Tuesday).”
Barre-Boulet impresses on the top line
Bubble players like Alex Barre-Boulet are running out of chances to show they deserve a spot on the final 23-man roster by the end of the weekend. But Cooper was impressed with what the younger prospects showed against the Panthers.
On Thursday, Barre-Boulet skated on the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat (Kucherov was one of a few who had the night off). Against the Panthers, Cooper and the coaching staff made sure the four prospects (Barre-Boulet, Katchouk, Simon Ryfors and Taylor Raddysh) were on separate lines, too, so they could see how they played individually.
“(Barre-Boulet) made some plays, he has a really good stick, he makes great plays in tight and he played with some high-caliber players and fit right in,” Cooper said. “He did a good job.”
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