From The Top: Home Opener For The Florida Panthers Is Victorious

It was the home opener for the Florida Panthers as they took on cross state rival the Tampa Bay Lightning in game two of the young season.  There was a buzz in the building that hasn’t been felt before in anticipation of the local fans getting their first regular season look at the Panthers led by head coach Joel Quenneville.  These two teams were meeting for the 5th consecutive time over the past couple of weeks, and throughout those games, and including this one, you can see the fierce rivalry building.  By the end of the game, they would each be giddy that they wouldn’t be seeing each other any time soon.

After game one which saw the Panthers lose 5-2, Q wanted more puck possession, better special teams, and to be better offensively with their chances.  While the score appeared lopsided, the game itself really wasn’t.

Before the game, the entire staff was announced, and head coach Joel Quenneville was given the loudest cheer.  The only player to match that would be goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.  Little did the crowd know that they were just warming their hands up, as they would be clapping often for the world class net minder.

The Lightning controlled the initial minutes of the opening period with a high pressure forecheck which kept the Panthers in the defensive zone more than they liked.  The Panthers blue liners had trouble getting out of their zone because of Tampa’s persistent push.  Fortunately there were only a few real scoring chances which Sergei Bobrovsky was ready for.  Later in the period, once the jitters settled, Florida created some of their own opportunities with chances from Vincent Trocheck, Henrik Borgstrom and defenceman Anton Stralman.  A very bright spot early was that all 4 lines were engaged and creating offensive chances.

Early in the second Tampa was gifted a puck from a miscue by Florida defenceman Mike Matheson (a rare bad moment in this game for him), but of course Bobrovsky kept the game scoreless.  Another bright spot was seeing the forwards backchecking deeper in the defensive zone, helping out the defenceman.  Another stamp of head coach Joel Quenneville and his assistant Mike Kitchen.  Things began to get interesting as Tampa would find themselves being called for three consecutive penalties.  On the first power play opportunity, the Panthers managed only one shot, and actually gave up a scoring chance to the Lightning.  There was some rather careless passing happening, but finally on the second chance, Panther forward and resident sniper Mike Hoffman set up near his round office and this happened:

Hoffman would get another, also on the power play moments later and the Panthers had a quick two goal lead.  But they weren’t finished.

Gritty forward Noel Acciari one of the summers’ key free agent acquisitions made two outstanding plays as he scored his first goal of the season.  The play was made as Acciari made a punishing check on Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, taking the defender out of the play just long enough for Acciari to plant himself in front of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky and show some soft hands, scoring his first goal as a Panther, and giving the good guys the lead 3-0.

At this point Florida had the “dreaded” three goal lead, and you knew that if the Panthers let off the gas pedal, that Tampa would be coming.  And they were.  Their own gritty forward Gemel Smith, yes the same Smith that sent MacKenzie Weegar to the dressing room on Thursday night, found a lose puck that got behind Bobrovsky and the Panther’s lead was cut to 3-1.

I was talking with a couple of my press box media friends and we tried not to jinx it and talk about a potential hat trick.  One of the 3 of us said the word (not me) however, and sure enough at 17 seconds in Hoffman scored his third of the game, and the 3 goal lead was back.  And of course against a very talented and skilled team like the Lightning, you had a feeling that they weren’t done.  Steven Stamkos scored from his office.  The same place he’s been scoring from for as long as you reading this have been born.  He just seems to find himself open all the time.

Mathieu Joseph would then make the score 4-3 with just under five minutes left in regulation, and you could feel the tension in the building.  Now, let me say this.  In years past we know exactly how this would have gone.  The Panthers would have given up another goal, forcing overtime where they would lose during the 3 on 3, or have a 50% chance of winning in the shootout.  Or they would give up two quick goals before regulation ended and would lose in the closing minutes.

Not on this night.  Not with this team.  Not with this netminder.

Tampa pressured and the Panthers held on.  In the closing moments of the game the fourth line was literally stuck on the ice after three consecutive icings.  When you see players leaning over with their sticks on the their knees you know they are gassed.

There were a flurry of chances and opportunities as the Panthers desperately attempted to get the puck out of their zone.  Their only course of action to relieve the pressure was to ice the puck so that they could get at least a few seconds of rest.  At one point Dryden Hunt almost made it to the bench for a change to get at least one fresh player on, but the officials called another icing and back he went.

There was a huge pileup at the end, but fortunately the puck never crossed the line.  All this chaos happened in the closing minutes, but not to be forgotten was this outstanding save by Sergei Bobrovsky:

The Panthers fought off Tampa and came out victorious 4-3.

Coach Q was generally happy with the win, and was very impressed with his goaltender.  Although one of his quotes after the game was “We didn’t do too bad at the end, and obviously we can be better”. Q was also impressed with gritty forward Noel Acciari-“he played a lot of key minutes for us tonight”.  Yes, Coach Q can and did smile while talking about these positive points.

Some observations:

  • Great to see all four lines contribute both offensively and defensively.
  • Back checking by the forwards was refreshing to see.
  • The fourth line of Hunt-Acciari-Sceviour was very solid
  • Ice time was well managed managed for all the forward and Aleksander Barkov played 20:30, a perfect amount of time for him.
  • Jayce Hawryluk looked very good on the 3rd line.  Not sure if Denis Malgin gets back in any time soon.

Lastly it was great to see some old and new faces at the game.  Even my daughter surprised me by coming.  But I have to say that I made it my mission to make sure I met long time Twitter friend Ralph Lucarella, and as he calls her his “poor sister”.  Good meeting your both in person.

Next up are the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.  Finally a different opponent.

Thanks for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas


  1. It was the most famous meeting of Great Minds since FDR met Churchill aboard the Prince of Wales in the Atlantic Ocean just before we entered WW2!!! Once thing you didn’t mention in your Recap was the Panthers still need to demonstrate they can win without Ralph in Attendance!!!

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