TAMPA — It’s not often that you see a contending NHL team have not one but two rookies perform in a starring role as was the case Tuesday when both Spencer Knight and Anton Lundell helped lead the Florida Panthers to a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Usually if a team has two standout 20-year-olds, that means the team is rebuilding.
Which is what the Panthers are.
A legitimate contender.
With two pretty good rookies.
“They are great,” Florida team captain Sasha Barkov said following the game. “They are special, special players. We’re lucky to have those guys on our team.”
The Panthers played a good game on Tuesday, with Knight getting his first start of the season and pretty much picking up where he left off when we last saw him.
The 20-year-old netminder started four games for the Panthers not including two playoff games last spring.
Nothing seems to faze him.
”He was great. Big, patient, challenged at the right time. Took away a lot of the net,” Joel Quenneville said. “I thought the two kids were special tonight. … Their composure and performance was excellent.”
Lundell, Florida’s 20-year-old third-line center, impressed Quenneville from his first practice after missing time with an injury during training camp.
On Tuesday, Knight stopped 30 shots including some absolute spectacular saves against the high-flying Lightning.
Lundell got his first assist of his NHL career on the Panthers’ initial goal — then got his first goal in the third period which gave Florida some breathing room at 3-1.
“Today was a really, really good day,” Lundell said with a smile. “A great, huge win for us. For myself, it was pretty fun to get the first point, first assist and first goal in the same game. I don’t want to worry about it that much anymore. It gives me motivation for the upcoming games.”
Oh, well that’s comforting for Florida’s upcoming opponents.
“They’re a great team, they won the Cup back-to-back for a reason,” Knight said. “They are a great organization with great players. It’s always fun to to play against the best because they make you better.”
Florida did not take control of the game until the third, but played a solid road game against the two-time defending champs.
Knight helped cool off the Lightning in the first, shutting down a 5-on-3 power play chance that went for 95 seconds.
In a lot of cases, the Lightning would have scored twice there. Tuesday, it got nada as the Bolts still have not held a lead in any of its four games for a single second this season.
“Huge kill” said Quenneville, whose eyes light up whenever either player is mentioned. “You give that team a 5-on-3, you just hopefully kill most of the time because you know they’re going to find that empty space … The goalie was key, he was big and he challenged at the right time.”
Of course, Tuesday was not just the Knight-Lundell show.
Florida took a 1-0 lead on a wrister from Brandon Montour (after Lundell won the face-off) in the second period.
The Lightning had numerous chances to tie the score but Knight made a number of fantastic saves, including an incredible one in which he blindly reached underneath himself as a loose puck was trickling toward the goal line.
“Sometimes you don’t feel it, sometimes you just guess,” Knight said of the save which kept it a 1-0 game. “We got lucky. I knew it was on my right side and I just kind of tried to sweep it. It’s one of those things where you try to just react. I wasn’t really thinking. … That’s not a save I want to make. I should have smothered it and that’s something I have to work on.”
In the third, the Lightning tied the score on a blistering shot from Brayden Point in which there are few goalies in the world who could have stopped that.
Florida quickly got the lead back on a patient goal by Barkov at the mouth of the goal with Lundell making it 3-1 later on.
“I had two empty-net chances in five seconds,” Barkov said with a wry smile. “I figured, ‘Maybe I should bury one’.’’
Anthony Duclair’s empty net put the game on ice for a Florida team now 3-0 this season heading into Thursday’s matchup with the visiting Avalanche.
“I thought we played pretty well with the lead and they got their chances,” Barkov said. “Our PK, our defense, our goalie Knigher played outstanding. That’s why we won.”
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