There was a new coaching staff behind the bench for the Panthers on Friday night as they opened their season against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The head of that group is Bob Boughner, who hoped to kick off his first season as an NHL head coach with a win.
Boughner, 46, with associate coach Jack Capuano and first-time NHL assistant and 31-year old Paul McFarland at his side, suffered his first loss against a division opponent despite rallying back from a 2-goal deficit and nearly tying the game late in the final frame.
“I thought we started extremely well, in a tough building, opening night,” said Boughner. “We talked about trying to control our emotions, we knew they were going to come hard.”
A respectable opening period saw the Panthers down 1-0 after a goal by Ondrej Palat six minutes in.
Tampa’s lead was extended to two after Brayden Point whipped the puck short-side on Roberto Luongo just 25 seconds into the second period following a turnover in the corner.
The Panthers finally got on the scoresheet when Connor Brickley scored a tap-in goal from the top of the blue paint to reduce the deficit to one. Just over five minutes later, Mark Pysyk backhanded a loose puck top-shelf from the side of the net to tie things up at two.
Brickley’s goal was just the second of his NHL career, with his first coming nearly two years ago to the day on October 15th, 2015 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 25-year old signed a two-way deal as a free-agent this off-season, made the Panthers out of training camp, and skated on the third line with Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad on Friday.
“We never quit, we came back,” said Boughner of the team’s effort despite the loss. “My message [to the team] after the game was if we play like that, we’re gonna win our fair share of games.”
Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov each tallied a goal within the first seven minutes of the third period to restore a two-goal lead for the Lightning.
Jonathan Huberdeau redirected a point shot by line-mate Evgenii Dadonov through the legs of Andrei Vasilevksiy with under six minutes remaining in the third.
However, Palat would score his second goal of the game on an empty net to seal the deal and put a damper on what was a mostly satisfactory effort and performance overall by the Panthers.
Vasilevksiy made 33 saves on 36 shots as the new number-1 goaltender for the Lightning, including a point-blank stop on Derek MacKenzie late in the game and a couple of chances in tight by Dadonov and Micheal Haley.
At the other end, Luongo allowed four goals on 20 shots, including the first of the night that slipped through his legs.
“I need to be better, that’s the bottom line,” said Luongo, who remains one win shy of tying Curtis Joseph for fourth all-time. “I think that was the difference in the game tonight. We deserved better. The first couple of goals, there’s no excuse for that, those goals can’t go in.”
Dadonov’s assist on the Huberdeau goal was his first point in a Panthers uniform since December 27th, 2011, his final game with the team before being shipped off to the Hurricanes and eventually leaving for the KHL.
The Panthers went 0-for-4 on the power play, and that ended up being a difference-maker.
“I think it shows good character that we were able to find a couple goals when we were down,” said Keith Yandle, who led the Panthers in ice time, logging 23:15. “We didn’t quit the whole game, we played hard, we did a lot of things the right way.”
“I think we can take a lot more good than bad from this game.”
The Panthers will head back to south Florida to face the Lightning on Saturday night in their own home opener at the BB&T Center.
- Owen Tippett, Denis Malgin, and Mackenzie Weegar were the Panthers’ healthy scratches on Friday.
- Radim Vrbata’s assist on Mark Pysyk’s second period goal was his first point as a Panther.
- Nick Bjugstad recorded 4 shots on goal and logged 14:28 of ice time.
- Vincent Trocheck won 14 of 25 face-offs taken (56%).