The Florida Panthers opened the 2017-18 season with a 5-3 loss at Tampa Bay. It was the coaching debut for Bob Boughner who took over the team in the offseason. Florida looks to start out faster than last year, a slow start was a big reason the team parted ways with Head Coach Gerard Gallant and replaced him with then GM Tom Rowe. That move did not pay dividends as the team could never get going and finished well out of playoff contention.
Florida was valiant in their effort and had the game tied at 2 near the end of second period. The Panthers continued to battle throughout the game Tampa Bay simply had too much in the third and notched three goals in the period to seal the deal. There were six slashing penalties called in the game, this is going to be a point of emphasis for the referees this season.
Despite outshooting the Lightning 36-25 the Panthers could not capitalize on their opportunities. Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo had 20 saves and got goals from Jonathan Huberdeau, Connor Brickley, and Mark Pysyk. The Lightning had to get a boost from the return of star forward Steven Stamkos who missed the final 65 games last year. Tampa Bay also got back right winger Ryan Callahan who was back after being out 64 games last year with a hip injury. Stamkos tallied an assist on Vladislav Namestnikov’s goal early in the third period to put Tampa Bay ahead for good. Huberdeau’s goal with under six minutes to play cut the Lightning lead to 4-3, but an empty netter by Ondrej Palat made for the final result.
The teams face-off again Saturday in Sunrise for the Panthers home opener. Hopefully the Panthers can defend home ice and get a split in their first two games. Last year Florida was mediocre at home, finishing with a 19-19-3 record at the BB&T Center.