The Tampa Bay Lightning began their 25th season with a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night at Amalie Arena. The Lightning were determined to get off on the right foot this season after falling one point shy of a playoff berth in 2016-17. The Florida rivals met three consecutive times during the preseason with the Panthers winning all three games rather decisively. Nonetheless, the Lightning made sure to get the two points when it mattered.
The first game of the season saw the line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde lead the offensive duties for the Lightning. Point, the game’s first star, finished with a goal and two assists, while Palat had a pair of goals. Nikita Kucherov scored the game-winner unassisted 6:38 into the third period. Steven Stamkos recorded an assist in his first regular season game in 11 months, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 33 saves for the win.
Point Line Starts the Lightning’s Engine
The Lightning got off to a shaky start in their home opener but Point, Palat, and Gourde had their engines running from puck drop. The trio started the game for Jon Cooper’s squad and got off to a great start as they created the Lightning’s first chance with Point and Gourde getting a two-on-one break, however unable to get a shot on target.
Just over six minutes into the first period, Point redirected a pass from Victor Hedman into the offensive zone where he found Palat steaming down the middle, who buried it for the team’s opening goal of the season.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) October 7, 2017
Despite being outshot 10-6 in the first, the Lightning had a fortunate 1-0 lead through 20 minutes. Point gave the home team a two-goal lead 25 seconds into the second period, scoring unassisted. The 21-year-old provided most of the team’s offense through the first 40 minutes and would end his impactful night with a third point assisting on Palat’s empty-netter.
Lightning Show Tenacious Forecheck
The Point line might be the Lightning’s fastest and they showed that on Friday night. Not only did the line provide scoring, they were also a handful for the Panthers with their aggressive forecheck. The trio used their speed to hunt down any player with the puck in the Panthers’ zone and make it as hard as possible for them to get out of their own end. Rightfully so, Cooper had praise for this line during his post-game press conference and called them the best line of the night.
A combination of tenacity and speed could make this line a pain for opponents to play against in the future. They’re quick to get the puck up the ice and could be a force offensively for the Lightning this season. This trio could provide the Lightning with a great deal of secondary scoring and could be often relied on in 2017-18.
Vasilevskiy Stands Tall in Goal
Vasilevskiy’s 33-save night is not one that should be overlooked. The 23-year-old kept the Lightning in the game early on when the Panthers were pressing and getting some quality scoring chances. The young goaltender made some highlight reel saves and may be the biggest reason why the Lightning skated away with a win on Friday night.
With all the pressure of coming into the season as the number one goaltender, Vasilevskiy handled his opening night start like a veteran. He’s looked the readiest out of all the Lightning’s players since the preseason and has shown so far that he can handle the number one job.
The Lightning will get right back to work on Saturday night as they head over to Sunrise, Florida for the second half of a home-and-home with the Panthers at the BB&T Center.
Tampa Bay Lightning Contributor for The Hockey Writers and Writer for TheSportster.