TAMPA — Spencer Knight made his first start of what is now officially his rookie season pretty memorable on Tuesday night as the kid from Boston College was terrific in the Florida Panthers 4-1 win over the host Tampa Bay Lightning.
Knight, who is now 5-0 in his short NHL regular season career, made 30 stops — including one you’ll be seeing on the SportsCentre — as he kind of avenged his Game 6 loss here a few months ago.
Florida is now 3-0 for the second consecutive season after beating three playoff teams from the 2021 campaign to kick off this one.
The fourth such opponent comes calling Thursday night when the Colorado Avalanche — everyone’s Stanley Cup favorite — visits Sunrise.
Florida held a 1-0 lead going into the third period thanks to Knight and a goal from Brandon Montour but it did not last long into the third.
Brayden Point got his first of the season with an absolute snipe from beyond the right circle to tie the score at 2:36 of the period.
Florida got its lead right back with Sasha Barkov showing some resilience and patience around the net.
Barkov misfired on a shot sitting on the right side of the Tampa Bay net but stuck with it.
After the puck worked its way back, Barkov was in the same spot — and this time didn’t miss to give Florida a 2-1 lead at 3:40.
With 6:41 remaining, Sam Reinhart and Anton Lundell came flying down on a 2-on-1 with Reinhart feeding the rookie for his first NHL goal and a 3-1 lead.
Lundell got his first NHL point earlier in the game and made his third NHL game a two-point night.
Between Knight and Lundell, the Panthers’ future looked pretty good on Tuesday.
“I thought the two kids were special tonight,’’ Joel Quenneville said. “That was great. The future of the organization. Their composure and their performance was excellent.’’
With 2:06 left, Anthony Duclair all but ended things for the Panthers by scoring into the empty net. It was the third goal in as many games to start the season for Duclair.
KNIGHT STRONG THROUGHOUT
Knight was terrific early on, keeping the Lightning off the board despite a lengthy 5-on-3 power play in the first period.
With Joe Thornton (slashing) and Anton Lundell (holding) both hanging out in the penalty box, the Lightning’s dangerous power play had a whopping 1:35 of having a two-man advantage.
Nothing, save for four saves by the Florida rookie, came of it.
In the second, Florida got another power play chance and came thisclose to getting its first goal of the young season with the man advantage.
Although the first power play unit continues to look a little choppy, the second group hummed around and got a power play aided goal as Montour fired off a shot from the right circle after Lundell got the faceoff win at 4:11 of the period.
The clock inside the arena said there was a second left on the power play, but the official timer ruled it had expected. So, the Panthers remained 0-for-9 this season with the advantage.
UPDATE: The NHL amended the scoresheet and the goal did count as coming on the power play.
Florida quickly got another power play chance but the first unit — which now has Patric Hornqvist back down low with Sam Reinhart on the second group — wasn’t able to do anything.
The scored stuck at 1-0 as Knight was simply fantastic in the final minutes of the period.
With Reinhart in the box for slashing, Knight stopped Steven Stamkos — the Lightning’s biggest Panther killer of ‘em all — on a breakaway before making a strong save when Stamkos was jamming at a loose puck on the doorstep.
What may just be Knight’s biggest highlight-reel save of his young NHL career came into the final seconds of the second.
Ryan McDonagh wound up and blistered a shot from the point that Knight stopped — but the puck trickled through his legs and was heading toward home.
Knight somehow felt this, reached back with his left arm, went underneath his, well, rear end, and stopped the puck from going any further.
If you watch any sort of sports highlight show in North America, you probably saw it.
Best scoring chance for the Lightning so far – McDonagh's shot sneaks through Spencer Knight's pads but he falls on the puck before Stamkos got the rebound #GoBolts #FLAvsTBL pic.twitter.com/uavBTMNA3j
— Bucs Rays Bolts (@BucsRaysBoltsYT) October 20, 2021
Knight was, of course, helped along throughout the game as Florida’s defense has looked much improved this season in front of both he and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Radko Gudas kept the game scoreless by sweeping a puck out of harm’s way in the first, and the Panthers were very good at cleaning up rebounds from hanging around in front of the net too long.
While Florida’s power play was unable to put a puck in the back of the net, Tampa Bay’s dangerous power play units failed to do so as well.
After last postseason, the Panthers will make that trade with a smile on their face.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Spencer Knight, Florida
2. Sasha Barkov, Florida
3. Brandon Montour, Florida
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
COLORADO AVALANCHE AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: 560-AM
- 2021 regular season series: Did not play