Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning torches Florida Panthers with three late goals

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan is denied as Panthers’ goalie Roberto Luongo, and Dmitry Kulikov defend in the first period Saturday night in Sunrise.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan is denied as Panthers’ goalie Roberto Luongo, and Dmitry Kulikov defend in the first period Saturday night in Sunrise. AP

The Tampa Bay Lightning led the NHL in goals en route to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

No one has to tell the Panthers that.

Tampa Bay continued its winning ways against its cross-state cousin Saturday night, closing out its exhibition slate by scoring three goals in the final five-plus minutes to beat the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center.

The Panthers, who open the season Oct. 10 against the visiting Flyers, end the preseason 3-3.

“I was real happy for 54 minutes because we played a great game,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team’s early 2-0 lead held up until late in the third.

“The last six minutes came back to haunt us. ... But it was by far our best preseason game. We made a couple of mistakes there and I’m disappointed obviously. But I’m glad this was preseason and not the first game when we did this.’’

After finishing with 91 points last season and being in the playoff hunt until the final games, the Panthers expect nothing less than the postseason this year.

One measuring stick the Panthers have to show how far they have come — and how far they still have to go — is the Lightning.

Although Saturday’s loss won’t count for anything, it’s just another example of Tampa Bay’s recent success against the Panthers.

Not only did the Lightning outscore Florida 7-3 in a pair of preseason wins, but the Lightning has won seven of the past eight in which the games did count.

This year, the two teams meet the maximum five times with Florida traveling to the west coast for three of the games.

The defending Eastern Conference champions expect to be a title contender again this year and Florida will need to get more than a few of the 10 available points in the season series.

“I don’t think we stole a lot of points from them last year,’’ defenseman Brian Campbell said. “Those are desperate points we need to get this year. They’re quick and you better get used to playing them.’’

Saturday, the Panthers ran out to a 2-0 lead as the Lightning — playing its fifth exhibition in eight days — didn’t seem all that interested.

Florida’s first goal came 12:47 into the game when Derek MacKenzie took a pass from Quinton Howden and roofed a shot past Ben Bishop.

Later in the period, Nick Bjugstad teed off on a power play feed from Campbell and zipped one into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to but I thought we had a pretty good preseason,’’ Bjugstad said. “There’s nothing to be mad about, guys made some progress. The last five minutes aren’t how you want to end it, but that’s how it goes sometimes.’’

The two teams seemed content to let things go at that, but with 5:26 left, Ondrej Palat worked his way to the goal and beat Roberto Luongo.

Tampa Bay then got goals from Brian Boyle with 3:48 left before Jonathan Druin got around Aaron Ekblad after he hit the ice and beat Luongo for the winner with 2:02 remaining.

“It’s disappointing because I thought we played a really good game,’’ said Luongo, who gave up goals on three of the final four shots faced.

“For one reason or another, they got a goal and we panicked a little bit. We have to get used to playing in these situations because we’re going to be in them a lot. So whether it’s me making another save, you can’t lose the game in regulation like that.’’

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