Lightning start season with shootout victory

by Gary Shelton on October 7, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrew Cirelli ties the game short-handed in the 2nd period./CHUCK MULLER

Saturday, 3:30 a.m.

As games go, this one was the kind of contest that warned you of the journey ahead.

It wasn't always smooth, and it wasn't ever dominant. It was filled with hairpin turns and bumps in the road. The team started slowly, and only later did it find its mojo.

On the other hand, it was successful.

Really, for what else can you ask?

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Vasilevskiy gets help from the post on one of his saves./CHUCK MULLER

There were omens to be found in the Tampa Bay Lighting's 2-1 (shootout)  victory over the Florida Panthers on Opening Night Saturday. It wasn't one of those easy games where the team skates around in its return to please the ticket buyers. This one was a come-from-behind game that had a high "whew" factor.

Still, the Bolts won their seventh straight opener, largely because of a few familiar factors.

-- Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific, stopping 42 shots (and two more in the shootout). He gave up only a first-period goal to Jacob MacDonald.

-- Forward Nikita Kucherov, the team's most dangerous scorer last year, ended it with a shootout goal against Florida's James Reimer.

-- The team killed five penalties.

-- Forward Anthony Cirelli scored in the third period on a short-handed goal to tie it.

So, yeah, it ended the way the local fans wanted it to end, and it had drama, and it had a rally, and the Bolts are entirely undefeated.

"Clearly, we weren't skating in the first period," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "For whatever the reasons were, they were much better. They were beating us to pucks. I think we had a really good second period. We took the play to them. Scoring chances were probably 3-1 for us. We couldn't find the back of the net, but I like the way we're playing.

"The Achilles heel tonight is you can't take three penalties in the third period. We just sucked the life out of ourselves and every time we're trying to get it back then there was another penalty. It just went back to kind of falling back into a trap and not skating, turning pucks over... that's what happens. It's something we obviously have to address now. In saying that, a much-maligned penalty kill from last year for tonight kept them off the board and got the goal to push us to overtime so a positive to take from that."

The Bolts were helped by a pair of youngsters. Forward Mathieu Joseph made his NFL debut for the Bolts, and Cirelli scored the only regulation goal.

"Speaking of Joseph first, you can tell the nerves were on him a bit in the first period...completely understandable," said Cooper. "His mom and dad were in the crowd. It's always fun to watch that game happen and he had some big assignments tonight and was great on the penalty kill. But, his speed's his game, and the way he got his legs under him I thought it was great.

"Cirelli might have been the best player on the ice for us. When you work that hard and do so many things right, eventually you're going to get the chance he did. Obviously, it's huge goal for us."

Joseph enjoyed the evening.

"It was awesome," Joseph said. "I knew something like that was going to happen. It was great, it made me comfortable right away. You know it was a good warm-up song, so I was buzzing during the warm up. It was a good feeling.”

Joseph felt the Lightning played better as the game progressed.

“In the first period, I was a little bit nervous," Joseph said.
"Even though you’re not trying to think about it, it’s still your first period ever. You know I was a little bit nervous, and I kind of reset in the second.”

Said Cirelli: "I played with (Mathieu) a lot last year in Syracuse, so we have that chemistry going. He's fast, he's skilled, he makes plays and he's good defensively, so we gel pretty well. And even with Killer there, he's another player that we just got to feed him the puck and get open and make the play."

The Bolts are off until Thursday night. They will play Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Lightning winger Ondrej Palat misses open net in second period of season opener vs. Florida./CHUCK MULLER


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