When the season started, many expected the rival Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning to slug it out for the Atlantic Division title, as was the case last year.
Instead, both have disappointed and came into Thursday night’s game at BB&T Center closer — much closer — to last place in the Eastern Conference than holding a playoff spot.
On Thursday, both got at least a point as Florida outlasted the Lightning 2-1 in overtime, with former Tampa Bay winger Jonathan Marchessault scoring on a power play with 3:11 left.
The Panthers snapped a four-game winless streak after going 0-2-2 on their most recent trip. The Lightning has lost four of five.
James Reimer got a surprise start for Florida after Roberto Luongo was scheduled to be in net. According to goalie coach Robb Tallas, Luongo is a “bit banged up” and the decision was made to start Reimer because he was 100 percent. Luongo, Tallas said, is fine and expected to start when Florida returns from the All-Star break Tuesday against visiting Ottawa.
Reimer was challenged by the Lightning from the outset and made two big saves early that allowed the Panthers to take the initial lead.
With Alex Petrovic in the penalty box, Florida made it 1-0 when Jussi Jokinen scored on a short-handed chance as he raced in from the left side, took a pass from Vincent Trocheck and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on an odd-angled shot as he slid across the goal line midway through the first.