SUNRISE — The Lightning is fully confident in handing the net to goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
It would certainly help, though, if it lent a hand to the 23-year-old Russian every once in a while.
Tampa Bay lost 5-4 to the Panthers at the BB&T Center on Saturday night, but by no means was the score indicative of how the game was played. The Lightning got thoroughly outplayed and outshot (48-30) for a good portion of it.
Had it not been for the play of Vasilevskiy, it could have gotten really ugly. And that's what Monday will be if Tampa Bay (1-1-0) doesn't improve before red-hot Alex Ovechkin comes to town, the Capitals superstar with hat tricks in each of his first two games, and seven goals total.
"It doesn't even matter how close we got. We didn't deserve to win," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We've given up eight goals in two games. That's not a recipe for success.
"It's a concern. We have to address it. You can't win in this league giving up that many goals a game. And it's not on the goaltender."
Vasilevskiy was a big reason the Lightning won Friday's season opener, racking up 33 saves in beating Florida 5-3. And Saturday's game looked promising from the start, with the Lightning scoring twice in the first five minutes. Nikita Kucherov scored on a rebound off the rush. Then Vladislav Namestnikov scored on a power play.
But for the second straight game, the Lightning blew a 2-0 lead. It started with a string of penalties the Lightning took, three straight in the middle of the first period. The Panthers scored a power-play goal and didn't look back. At one point, the Panthers led 36-10 in shots.
"They took over the game," Stamkos said.
The Panthers' comeback began with a power-play goal by Evgeni Dadonov with eight minutes left in the first. Nick Bjugstad tied the score early in the second. But Lightning center Brayden Point — who was arguably its best forward in the first two games — came through with the go-ahead goal off the rush with seven minutes left.
The first part of the third period, however, was all Florida. The Panthers smothered the Lightning, outhustling and outworking it to loose pucks. They scored twice in 36 seconds to take the lead, the go-ahead goal counting after a review over goaltender interference.
Vasilevskiy said he should have played better, feeling like he lost focus in the third.
"We just didn't play fast anywhere on the ice," coach Jon Cooper said. "Even defensively we didn't play fast. We didn't shut them down, down low. We didn't separate the man from the puck. We let them out of the corner. Once you do that with a team, eventually it's going to end up in your net. That's what happened."
The Lightning found its speed in the third, pulling within one with five minutes left on a goal by Tyler Johnson. Fifteen of Tampa Bay's 30 shots came in the final 20 minutes. It was too little, too late.
"The right team won," Cooper said. "That's it."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 2 (Stamkos, Namestnikov), 3:30. 2, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 2 (Kucherov, Stamkos), 4:48 (pp). 3, Florida, Dadonov 1 (Ekblad, Huberdeau), 12:18 (pp). Penalties—Trocheck, FLA, (high sticking), 4:26; Petrovic, FLA, (roughing), 5:53; Paquette, TB, (roughing), 5:53; Johnson, TB, (slashing), 7:51; Kucherov, TB, (tripping), 11:12; Point, TB, (slashing), 19:15.
Second Period—4, Florida, Bjugstad 1 (McCann, Dadonov), 1:46. 5, Tampa Bay, Point 2 (Palat), 13:57. Penalties—Dotchin, TB, Major (fighting), 3:11; Haley, FLA, Major (fighting), 3:11; Callahan, TB, (holding), 9:51.
Third Period—6, Florida, Sceviour 1 (Barkov, Haley), 6:06. 7, Florida, McCann 1 (Bjugstad, Brickley), 6:42. 8, Florida, Trocheck 1 (Barkov, Vrbata), 8:34. 9, Tampa Bay, Johnson 1 (Point, Gourde), 14:12. Penalties—Paquette, TB, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 1:40; Yandle, FLA, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 1:40; Huberdeau, FLA, (cross checking), 1:40; Vrbata, FLA, (slashing), 9:24; Matheson, FLA, (tripping), 11:47; Kucherov, TB, (roughing), 15:54; Barkov, FLA, (roughing), 15:54; Barkov, FLA, served by Vrbata, (roughing), 15:54; Sceviour, FLA, (delay of game), 19:12. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-7-15—30. Florida 24-16-8—48. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 6; Florida 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 1-1-0 (48 shots-43 saves). Florida, Reimer 1-0-0 (30-26).