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Preseason Takeaways: Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Florida Panthers 2

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Florida Panthers Tampa Bay Lightning
The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning each auctioned off team-signed ‘Florida Strong’ jerseys following a preseason home-and-home with proceeds benefitting hurricane relief efforts. — Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning finally won a preseason game thanks to a hat trick from Vladislav Namestnikov as it beat the visiting Florida Panthers 5-2 at Amalie Arena on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers went 2-4 in the preseason and open the 2022-23 campaign Thursday on Long Island.

Florida sat stars such as Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Gus Forsling to avoid injury while newcomer Matthew Tkachuk also missed the game due to injury.

Tampa Bay played most of its NHL regulars.

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Colin White, Carter Verhaeghe and Nick Cousins each made their return to the Florida lineup after sustaining injuries last week.

Nikita Kucherov gave the Lightning an early 1-0 lead with a wide-open one-timer off of a feed from Victor Hedman 3:52 into the game.

Rudolfs Balcers blasted a slap shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy on a delayed penalty 1:27 later to tie the score.

Namestnikov got his first goal of the game with a one-timer of his own that snuck over a sliding Spencer Knight’s shoulder and in with 7:45 to go in the first period.

He struck again on a 5-on-3 power play with 45.6 seconds to go in the first period to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1.

The 29-year-old forward completed his hat trick by tapping in a touch pass from Ross Colton with 12:30 to go in the second period.

Florida got a goal back 1:15 later when Haydn Fluery swatted a puck off of Aleksi Heponiemi’s stick and past Vasilevskiy.

Brayden Point put Tampa Bay back up three goals 4:56 into the third period by picking up a rebound of a Cal Foote shot and tucking it past Knight.

Here are my takeaways from the game:

  • Matt Kiersted left the game early in the second period and did not return. He only had 10 shifts with 6:28 of time on ice and left at 5:20 of the second.
  • Rudolfs Balcers was on the money on both ends of the ice. He was shooting the puck with confidence and pressuring the front of the net on offense and was stopping Lightning rushes with key reads on defense. Through the preseason, he looks to be the most impressive of Florida’s free-agent signings so far.
  • Michael Del Zotto took on 29 shifts with 22:59 of time on ice and made a serious case to be this team’s seventh defenseman. He was making crisp passes all game — including the pass that set up Balcers’ goal — and ended the game with two shots, four hits and three takeaways.
  • With most of its penalty killers out of the game, Florida looked very weak shorthanded. Tampa Bay was able to make passes cutting right through the Panthers’ penalty killers and were dominant near the front of the net. The Lightning finished 2-for-3 on the power play.
  • Spencer Knight finished the game with 26 saves on 31 shots (.839) and struggled heavily with making saves on cross-ice passes. The coverage in front of him did not help in stopping them from happening, though.

FLORIDA PANTHERS PRESEASON

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS

  • When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: UBS Arena; Elmont, N.Y. 
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
  • Last season: Florida won 3-0
  • All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 54-32-11, 8 ties

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