ORLANDO — It may have been the preseason, but it looks like the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning still have a big-time dislike of one another.
Although both sides played nice for the first period, when Sam Bennett charged goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy playing the puck behind the net, well, game on.
The intensity of the game certainly ramped up and, despite being played on the ad-filled ice of the ECHL Solar Bears, felt real.
It was not of course.
Florida’s 3-2 win at Amway Center — thanks to two goals by Owen Tippett and some strong net-work from Spencer Knight — will not be recorded in the annals of history although the nice crowd which showed up for the first of three exhibition games between the two certainly got their money’s worth.
”Old-time hockey,’’ Joel Quenneville quipeed.
The two teams still have two exhibition games remaining to wrap up the preseason: Thursday in Tampa and Saturday night in Sunrise.
Then, the real stuff starts as Pittsburgh comes to town next Thursday night.
Florida will visit Tampa Bay on Oct. 19.
“I think there was some carryover and you don’t get that rivalry until you get a playoff series and we had an outstanding, very competitive series with them,” Quenneville said.
The Panthers got off to a hot start and took a 1-0 lead 5:30 in on a nice shot from Frank Vatrano — his fourth of the preseason but first since he got a hat trick against Nashville in the double-header a few weeks back.
Florida’s vaunted first power play unit got on the ice for the first time this preseason later in the period with Sam Reinhart getting a great look before both he and Sasha Barkov failed to get anything past Vasilevskiy as they chopped at a loose puck on the doorstep.
Knight got the start after Sergei Bobrovsky stayed back in South Florida for the birth of his first child.
Knight, who lost to the Lightning in Game 6, looked sharp in net throughout and did not let one through until there was 3:12 left in the second when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare went top shelf on Tampa’s 22nd shot of the night.
“That was a fun game and I thought it was a good win even if it was a preseason game,” Knight said.
“It was good to play hockey again. I wasn’t thinking about (the bad blood), I was just thinking about winning.”
That came after the Bennett-Vasilevskiy brouhaha in which Tippett ended up trading punches with Corey Perry. Bennett took a spot next to him in the penalty box for charging and Knight faced a stiff test moments later when Juho Lammikko came in as well.
The Lightning’s power play now had 1:38 of 5-on-3 play.
Knight was terrific in holding off the charge.
Coaches love to say goalies are a team’s best penalty killer and Knight certainly was right then.
Bennett and Boris Katchouck went at it to kick off the third period — it was over quickly — before everyone grabbed a partner.
Noel Acciari appeared to have injured his left arm or shoulder before he hit the ice with Patrick Maroon.
He skated off the ice with assistance and went directly to the training room.
Quenneville said he would be out “a while.”
Moments later, Tippett gave the Panthers the lead back as he walked in on Vasilevskiy and ripped one past him.
Tippett then made it 3-1 midway through the period with his second goal.
“The intensity certainly built up in the playoffs last year and I know it’s preseason but it’s fun hockey to play,” Tippett said.
“I think there was some carryover and you don’t get that rivalry until you get a playoff series and we had an outstanding, very competitive series with them,” coach Joel Quenneville said.