The Panthers kept things close for a while Thursday night, trailing by a goal in the second period. But as was the case in St. Louis last weekend, things unraveled and got ugly in a hurry.
For the second time in three games, the Panthers watched an opponent ring up seven goals as they were chased home with a 7-2 loss to the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
By the time Steven Stamkos scored his third of the night and baseball caps littered the ice around him, it seemed like it had been hours since Florida trailed by just one. Stamkos’ hat trick made it a five-goal lead for a Lightning team that celebrated its home opener with plenty of flair.
The Panthers, on the other hand, limp home for Friday’s 20th anniversary home opener, one which might have some longing for those expansion days of yore.
Florida has lost three in a row and has been outscored an expansion-like 16-3 since beating Dallas last week.
Despite firing coach Denis Savard four games into the 2008-09 season when he was general manager in Chicago, Dale Tallon is not expected to relieve Kevin Dineen of his coaching duties despite this rocky start.
“We’ve been our own worst enemies in the games that haven’t been in dispute,” Dineen said. “We didn’t respond well to pressure when they pressured our players. Instead of responding and knowing it was coming, it created turmoil for us. It was hard to find our sync. …
“They smelled blood when we didn’t respond to their pressure. They kept applying it, and we didn’t stand up to it.”
Don’t look now, but things might actually get worse for the Panthers before they get better. Florida went 1-3-0 before finally heading home — only to find a well-rested Pittsburgh team waiting.
Sunday brings the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings, and Monday offers another trip, this one to Nashville, Tenn. When the Panthers return home, the defending conference champion Bruins will be the foe.
Obviously, this was not the start the Panthers hoped for; not with what’s on deck.
“We have to figure this out quick because it’s not going to get easier,” said Brad Boyes, who snapped Florida’s 0-for-17 power-play slide by scoring early in the second to make it a 2-1 game. “Seven goals is, I don’t know what else to say. It’s terrible.”
Tampa Bay opened the scoring eight minutes in when Martin St. Louis poked a puck past goalie Jacob Markstrom. It was 2-0 soon afterward as Stamkos drove through Erik Gudbranson and redirected a feed from St. Louis for Florida’s second short-handed goal allowed this season.
The Panthers finally got their own power play on the board in the second when Boyes tapped a puck past Ben Bishop. A goal down was as close as Florida got, with the Lightning getting goals from Stamkos and Ondrej Palat within a four-minute span in the second for a 4-1 lead at the final break.
Florida cut the deficit to two in the third when Jonathan Huberdeau charged in on Bishop and pushed the puck through. But the Bolts weren’t done, with Detroit import Valtteri Filppula scoring twice before Stamkos got a new collection of caps with 7:35 remaining.
Markstrom made 18 saves on 24 shots and was pulled after Filppula’s second tally. Scott Clemmensen came in and gave up a goal on four shots.
“This is something we have to go over; it’s early but this is something you can’t have in this league,” Scott Gomez said. “We have to stop this now. The positive is we’re coming right back [Friday], so we better stop the bleeding now. … We know how we can play, compete. But this has to stop. We have no time to dwell on it. We’re right back into it.”
• The Panthers and Lightning will play for a so-called Governor’s Cup, with the winner of the four-game series getting a donation from the losing team for its youth hockey programs.
Although Florida and Tampa Bay played for the 110th time Thursday, the teams have yet to meet in the postseason.
“They are our in-state rival, and the only thing that separates us is the Everglades,” Dineen said Wednesday. “A nasty playoff series would really push things along.”