The Panthers and the Lightning met for the second time in the last three days for a preseason battle.
Picking up where they left off, the Panthers’ newly-formed top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and free-agent signing Evgenii Dadonov led the offensive attack at the BB&T Center on Tuesday night.
Huberdeau, playing in his second game of the preseason, opened the scoring with a top-shelf wrist shot that beat a screened Andrei Vasilevskiy 42 seconds in to the middle frame.
Barkov won the face-off and sent the puck back to the 24-year old winger for his first of three assists on the night.
“I didn’t see anything,” joked Huberdeau about the openings he saw to shoot the puck at for his goal. “I saw the defenseman was in front of the eyes of the goalie and I just said, ‘why not shoot it,’ and I kinda looked around and it was in.”
He didn’t have to do much thinking at all for his second goal which came just over five minutes later on the power playas Barkov slung the puck to the front of the net from inside the blueline.
Huberdeau got just enough wood on it at the top of the blue paint to redirect it between the legs of Vasilevskiy.
“Once they get familiar with each other, I think it’s going to be a scary line,” said head coach Bob Boughner. “You could see that when they get out there and they’ve got puck control and they’ve got full speed. I think they’re one of the best lines in the league.”
It was Huberdeau’s third goal of the preseason and gave the Panthers a 2-zip lead over the Lightning, who rolled out a lineup of just about all of their regulars, including Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat.
“I wanna play good every shift,” said Huberdeau. “I think it’s coming. It takes a few games to be a hundred percent and I think right now I feel better so hopefully the next game is gonna be even more better.”
Barkov had a few close calls with the red lamp as well. A cross-ice pass from Dadonov was headed for the back of the net until Vasilevskiy stretched all the way out to make a perfect glove grab for one of his 29 saves.
Then, during a penalty kill, Barkov’s one-timer appeared to be a good goal until the referees waved it off for too many men on the ice.
The Lightning countered with a goal by Ryan Callahan before the halfway point of the 3rd period, but Connor Brickley ripped a wrist shot far side from the right circle at the tail end of a power play to restore the Panthers’ 2-goal lead.
It was Brickley’s third goal of the preseason and might’ve been exactly what he needed to all but secure a spot on the Panthers’ Opening Night roster.
Although Kucherov gave the Lightning some hope with a goal in the final two minutes, Vincent Trocheck sealed the deal with an empty-netter 41 seconds later.
Roberto Luongo was marvelous in his second exhibition start, stopped 38 of 40 Tampa shots, including a quick sequence while seemingly down and out late in the 2nd period.
“That sequence was probably something that really boosted my confidence to be like, ‘O.K., I’m back. I feel great. I’m seeing the puck well,’” said Luongo. “It kind of puts the mental aspect at ease and away we go.”
The Panthers play host to the Lightning again on Thursday at 6:00pm, but aren’t expected to ice a fully stocked lineup until Friday’s preseason finale against the Canadiens in Montreal.
“I’m gonna rest a few guys on Thursday,” said Boughner. “We’re playing a back-to-back and I want to make sure we come out of exhibition healthy, but I think Friday will be a better indication of a full NHL squad.”