TAMPA — After the teams split one-sided decisions in Sunrise, Monday night’s encounter between the Lightning and Panthers ultimately became a tight game and the outcome somewhat in doubt while the former was on a late power play.
In the end, and in front of a handful of relatives and friends of Lightning team and staff members at Amalie Arena, the Panthers held on for a 6-4 win.
The teams meet five more times this season.
The game was decided in the second period when the Lightning, who were sloppy for much of the first 40 minutes, allowed four goals and found themselves trailing 5-2.
Curtis McElhinney, playing his second game since last March 8 at Detroit, Tampa Bay’s last game before the NHL shut down due to the virus, showed that he still has some rust even after a 4-1 win at Nashville last Monday night.
McElhinney’s teammates did not give him much help, though, as turnovers led to many Panthers scoring chances, a few of which they were able to capitalize on in building a pair of three-goal leads in the middle period.
“This is not on Mac,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of his goalie. “It was all the mistakes in front of him.”
Virtually every one of the Panthers nine shots on goal in the first period were prime scoring opportunities, but McElhinney, despite being caught out of the net on a Jonathan Huberdeau goal, came up big in getting the Lightning to the dressing room tied at 1-1.
The second period began to unravel when Frank Vatrano forced Jan Rutta into a turnover. Eatu Luostarinen corralled the loose puck and found Owen Tippett, who from low in the left circle rifled home his first goal of the season and second of his 18-game NHL career. That made it 2-1 and opened the floodgates to what we become a 4-1 and then a 5-2 Florida lead with still seven-plus minutes remaining in the period.
“It was all self-inflicted,” said Cooper, who rattled off the errors that led to each of the Panthers goals. “Sometimes you get what you deserve and we got what we deserved tonight.”
Among Florida’s second-period goals was a penalty shot by Vatrano that made it 3-1. Vatrano broke in on McElhinney, off a turnover, and was taken down by Luke Schenn.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot and we laid an egg in the second period,” said Pat Maroon. “That’s not how we are supposed to be playing.”
Still, with all of their troubles, the Lightning fought back and came within 5-4 when Tyler Johnson scored at 16:38. They also had a chance to knot it up when Aaron Ekblad went off for hooking at 18:14, but could not capitalize on a night they went 0-for-4 on the power play.
“I thought the game was winnable the whole time,” said Cooper. “Then to give one up in the first minute of the third period is inexcusable.”
The goal Cooper referred to was Anton Stralman’s first of the season 59 seconds into the final period. The former member of the Lightning sent a wrister from the right circle past McElhinney on the far side to make it 6-4 and complete the scoring.
There was some rough stuff in the third period, including former teammates Carter Verhaeghe and Gemel Smith dropping the gloves four minutes in and Yanni Gourde standing up for a teammate in taking on former Lightning tough guy Radko Gudas.
“We take pride in standing up for one another and we did that tonight,” said Ryan McDonagh.
The Lightning had a chance to come within one when Florida’s veteran defenseman, Keith Yandle, was called for slashing at 16:45. McElhinney was pulled halfway through the man advantage, but the Lightning could not get any closer and perhaps create some last-minute drama.
With the defeat, the Lightning’s perfect home mark to start this season was not extended. The had won seven straight at Amalie Arena dating to last season, including the first six games this year.
The Lightning are back on the road for three games, including two at Dallas beginning Thursday night at 8:30.