The Florida Panthers came within seconds of making franchise history.
But the normally stingy Florida defense was unable to hold on to a late lead before falling 4-3 in a shootout to in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.
Defenseman Mike Matheson appeared to give the Panthers three straight victories to open the season for the first time since the inception of the franchise in 1994 when he scored on a delayed penalty call with 4:08 left in the third period. Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos, however, tied the game with 5.5 seconds left on a one-timer from just above the goal line before rookie Brayden Point won the game in the sixth round of the shootout for Tampa Bay, which opened the season 3-0 for the second consecutive season.
Vincent Trocheck, Colton Sceviour and Matheson all scored for Florida, which has points in three consecutive games (2-0-1) to start the season for the fourth time in franchise history. James Reimer, making his Florida debut after signing as a free agent in the summer, finished with 25 saves.
“You like to make those saves at the end, but sometimes it’s not possible,’’ Reimer said. “I felt, not too bad, you would like to win but I felt alright. First game of the season, getting to know the guys, getting to know the system and we’ll keep getting better and better. I felt it was a good stepping stone and I’ll be better next time.’’
The two teams took turns grabbing a lead and letting is slip away. Sceviour put the Panthers in front with his first career shorthanded goal, converting a 2-on-1 with Florida captain Derek MacKenzie 2:38 in to the second period for a 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay, which rallied from behind for victory in the two games to start the season, carried a 2-1 lead into the intermission on goals from Alex Killorn at 6:18 and Ondrej Palat at 16:21.
“The first two goals we give up, we gave them those goals,’’ Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Tampa Bay is going to score enough goals against us this year that we don’t have to give them goals and we got a little soft in the D zone.’’
But the Panthers would rally to regain the lead on Trocheck’s second of the season at 5:26 before Matheson notched his first career goal at 15:52, cutting down the left circle, one-timing a pass from Greg McKegg Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop.
“I wish we would have got the win, but it’s nice to get the monkey off your back,’’ Matheson said of his first NHL goal.
Matheson, however, was thinking more about what happened in the final minute before Stamkos scored the tying goal.
“I thought we played a good, solid game against a good team, but there were a couple of errors at the end of the game,’’ he said. “For myself, on that last shift I had an opportunity to corral the puck and make a play but it kind of hopped over my stick. So just little areas the we have to get better at so we can close out tight games like that.’’
The Panthers had a second chance at trying to secure the victory in the shootout when in the third round, Trocheck lost control of the puck on his attempt to try and extend the shootout. Though he regained control off to the side of the net and scored, the ruling on the ice was no goal. But after review, the puck was ruled to still be moving forward and the goal stood.
But Florida was unable to take advantage of the second life as Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith and Aaron Ekblad were all turned aside.
“We did some real good things,’’ Gallant said. “Overall we played good hockey and feel good about getting out of here with a point.’’