After all this waiting, a new season has finally arrived. It was time to see our beloved Florida Panthers in action again, taking on in-state rivals Tampa Bay.
Once the puck dropped, it was time to shift to hockey mode. Weird considering how much time the Cats have been off from playing the game we so love.
But as weird as it was, the Panthers came storming out the gates and poured all their energy on Tampa Bay. That energy caused the home side difficulties in their own zone. The Bolts couldn’t get the puck out, and the Panthers were doing everything right.
Just under six minutes into the opening period and Jacob MacDonald recorded his first career NHL goal in his NHL debut. Go figure!
The Panthers weren’t done there! They continued to press deeper and deeper as the period progressed and not a single player on the roster let up, either.
Unfortunately, the Cats couldn’t bury a second before the period concluded but they managed to dictate play for the majority of the first. 1-0 FLA after one.
After what was probably a pep talk in the dressing room, the Bolts came with a whole new level of energy. Their sluggish start from the first was gone, and now they were taking back the momentum.
Luckily for Florida, Roberto Luongo was there to face the flurry of shots and preserve the Panthers’ one-goal lead.
Shortly after, Cory Conacher tripped Aleksander Barkov, sending the Cats to their first man advantage of the night. Not only was this the first power play of the season, but it was the first time the Panthers would try out their new five-man power play.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well, and the Bolts killed off the penalty rather easily.
Suddenly, however, Luongo took a shot up high (hitting his mask) and abruptly went down. The 39-year-old was slow to get up, which caused a scare to us Panther fans.
Thankfully, though, Lu mustered enough strength to get up and guard the crease for his team, ready to lead his side to victory.
But it wasn’t long after until Luongo went down again. This time, there was contact in the crease, causing bodies to fall over. There was just no way Luongo was getting up after that and James Reimer was called upon to step in.
The second period concluded with shots in favor of Tampa (14-18) and with both sides going 0/2 on the man advantage.
Speaking of power plays, the Cats began the third with a man advantage of their own, but it didn’t last long when Jonathan Huberdeau was called for hooking.
The Panthers’ penalty-killing unit killed it off with ease, leaving both teams where they were at before: with a 1-0 scoreline.
However, the final penalty of the period happened to be a game-killer for the Cats. Anthony Cirelli and co. break down the ice shorthanded on a 2-on-1, and the native of Ontario stuffed a loose puck sitting in the crease home, sending this game to overtime.
Through three periods, the shots were 43-29 in favor of FLA, while the Cats and Bolts went 0/5 and 0/3 on the power play, respectively.
And in overtime, it was the Panthers (again) who drove play. Starting with Evgeni Dadonov, the Russian winger was inches away from putting the game to bed. Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy and his defense cleared the puck off the crease before Dadonov could get his stick there.
Then, it was Mike Hoffman who created the most dangerous chance throughout extra time. Blazing in with speed, Hoffman pulled off a toe-drag and rang a wrister off the post. How unlucky were the Cats? Unlucky as usual, if you ask me!
Tampa Bay escape overtime as they did with the third, and now the game was to be settled with a good ol’ fashion shootout.
J.T. Miller stepped up first for the home team and buried a shot (1-0 TB). Mike Hoffman was first for the Panthers and rang another shot off the post. Brayden Point came in and wired a shot over James Reimer.
It was up to shootout specialist Sasha Barkov to get the Cats on the board. Unfortunately, Vasilveskiy denied his backhander and gave his side the opportunity to win the game off the next shot.
Nikita Kucherov had the potential game-winning goal on his stick, and needless to say… he ripped a shot past Reimer’s glove, propelling the Bolts to a 2-1 victory.
In closing, I can’t be disappointed with how the Cats played. They gave it their all and controlled the majority of play. Your Panthers are back in action on Thursday, Oct. 11 against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home (home opener).