SUNRISE, Fla. -- The state of Florida is not supposed to be a hockey hotbed. It's not Canada or Russia, Minneapolis or Boston, where the ice is plentiful and the palm trees are not. The criticism has followed the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning since their respective inceptions in the early 1990s, a refrain that's grown tiresome over the decades.
Perhaps not many people envisioned the brand of hockey the Panthers and Lightning would brandish during Tampa Bay's 8-5 victory on Monday night, an explosion of offense that snapped Florida's brief two-game point streak and marked James Reimer's worst outing since taking over for the injured Roberto Luongo.
Florida and Tampa Bay engaged in an entertaining and wild game on Monday night, showing off their cores of 20-something skilled and speedy stars as the Lightning dented the Panthers defense for a season-high eight goals allowed. The two teams were meeting for the third time this season, having already split a season-opening back-to-back that featured 17 total goals.
The third volume didn't disappoint early. The first period had five combined goals. About four minutes separated three goals in the second period.
The stars -- on the offensive side -- proved why they're some of the biggest names in the sport. Panthers franchise cornerstones Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad each scored a goal. Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos continued their assaults on the net this season.
For the third time this season against Tampa Bay, the Panthers fell behind 2-0. In the first two games, they were able to erase the deficit with productive second periods that tied the game. They did so again on Monday night, with Huberdeau's goal immediately after a power play expired tying the game at three. Huberdeau extended his point streak to six games with his third multi-point game of the season.
But Tampa Bay responded with a vengeance.
Less than two minutes later, Ondrej Palat beat Reimer to reclaim the lead at 4-3. Then 9:38 into the second period, Yanni Gourde recorded a power play goal that reopened a two-goal lead and necessitated the removal of Reimer.
Reimer played just 29:38 minutes and stopped 14 of the 19 shots on goal he faced. Antti Niemi made his Panthers debut on Monday night, finishing the game in Reimer's place. Florida claimed Niemi off waivers last week from Pittsburgh after he allowed 16 goals in three games with the Penguins.
But Niemi couldn't stem the Lightning tide. Vladislav Namestikov notched his fifth goal of the season just as the teams returned to even strength following a penalty on Ekblad. The three-goal advantage didn't evaporate.