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Postseason or preseason, Lightning aren’t going to be pushed around

Tampa Bay lost some of its edge in free agency, but some newcomers have shown they can fill the void.
The Lightning's Ross Colton (79) and Florida Panthers' Radko Gudas (7) fight during the third period of Tuesday's preseason game in Orlando.
The Lightning's Ross Colton (79) and Florida Panthers' Radko Gudas (7) fight during the third period of Tuesday's preseason game in Orlando. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Oct. 6
Updated Oct. 7

ORLANDO — It took only five games into the preseason to ignite the fire in the Lightning.

The defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have gone through training camp in businesslike fashion but seemed to lack urgency as players have competed for the few available roster spots. Though the regulars have yet to play together, the Lightning have looked far from regular-season ready.

All it took was a preseason game Tuesday with the Panthers to stir them up. And when Florida forward Sam Bennett ran into Andrei Vasilevskiy, knocking the Lightning goaltender to the ground, three Tampa Bay players — Andrej Sustr, Ross Colton and Corey Perry — drove Bennett into the corner and made him pay the price.

It began a long night for Bennett, who had to defend himself in two more fights as the Lightning clearly intended to send a message.

“Let’s be honest, the guy did something dumb,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And there’s retribution for stuff like that, and if you want to go down that road, we’re sure as hell not going to back down.”

It was Bennett who escalated tensions during last season’s first-round playoff series between the teams when he charged from across the ice to slam Blake Coleman into the boards from behind in Game 1.

The Lightning showed then they weren’t going to be pushed around.

The Lightning lost some toughness when Coleman (free agency) and Barclay Goodrow (trade) departed in the offseason. The Rangers gave Goodrow a six-year deal worth $21.85 million to fill a void in their lineup. Coleman is a scorer, but his toughness didn’t go unnoticed when the Flames committed six years and $29.4 million to him.

The Florida Panthers' Owen Tippett, left, and Lightning's Corey Perry (10) fight during the second period of Tuesday's preseason game in Orlando.
The Florida Panthers' Owen Tippett, left, and Lightning's Corey Perry (10) fight during the second period of Tuesday's preseason game in Orlando. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Tampa Bay signed Perry in free agency in the offseason, and he surely fills that toughness need. But you never know how tough a team is until an opponent tries to push it around, and the Lightning answered the bell Tuesday.

They lost the game 3-2, dropping to 1-4-0 in the preseason, but there’s no doubt the Lightning grew closer as a team by showing their ability to flex their muscles.

“I know it’s just the preseason, but you can’t just expect to run one of the top goalies in the league and not expect to have repercussions for it,” said Perry, who went to the box for tussling with Florida forward Owen Tippett after Bennett’s hit on Vasilevskiy. “We have to show the fight in our game and keep putting it all together.”

Also not with the Lightning last season was rookie forward Boris Katchouk, who went after Bennett following a faceoff, adding a fight to his growing resume as he tries to make the opening-night roster.

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“He made a dirty play on ‘Vasy,’ and I’m just sticking up for ‘Vasy,’ " Katchouk said. “I’m sticking up for my teammates and the other guys in the room. We’re all battling for each other. It could have been any of the other guys. I just tried to step up and do the right thing.”

The Lightning finish the preseason with games against the Panthers tonight and Saturday, so the intensity should only intensify.

“I wasn’t here (last season). I don’t know the ins and outs,” Perry said. “But it looks like it’s going to be a fun rivalry.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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