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Panthers lose season opener 5-3 after Lightning score three times in third period

Matthew Defranks, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Hockey

TAMPA, Fla. -- The beginning of a new hockey season offers the chance to erase the past and write the future, to shed history and to make it new. It brings unfettered optimism and renewed faith that this season may be the season.

So in the hours before the Florida Panthers' season-opening 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night, when Amalie Arena's ice rested undisturbed and untouched, the promise of new beginnings brought a fresh scent to an October night. With two Tampa Bay goals in the third period, though, it disappeared.

After they erased a two-goal deficit in the second period, the Panthers surrendered two goals early in the third period that gave Tampa Bay another two-goal lead. Vladislav Namestnikov scored 25 seconds into the third period to break the tie. Six minutes later, Nikita Kucherov gathered a loose puck in front of the net and fired it past Roberto Luongo to give the Lightning insurance.

Tampa Bay added a late empty-net goal.

Friday's game was the Panthers' first regular season one since their season fizzled to an end in April, a disappointing 81 points hung on their ledger after a division championship the year before. The season opener came against their cross-state division rival picked by some as a dark horse Stanley Cup contender.

Florida got off to a slow start. Some of its early play was sloppy: missed passes, mishandled pucks and scoring chances gone unanswered. Tampa Bay scored first when Ondrej Palat dribbled a shot through Roberto Luongo's legs 6:33 into the first period.

Palat sped past a diving Aaron Ekblad before challenging Luongo with a shot. As the play finished, Luongo swiveled his head toward the net behind him. He sought to locate the puck. When he found it in the back of the net, he lifted his chin skyward, dismayed to give up the first goal of the season.

The Panthers finished the first period with a 10-6 edge in shots, but didn't muster any on their two power play opportunities.

The Lightning extended their lead to 2-0 almost immediately after the second period began. Brayden Point wristed a shot from Luongo's right, nearly even with the goal line. It slipped past him on the near side to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead.

But then the Panthers started to click, and the offense came from unlikely sources.

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