After a turnover in the defensive zone, Mathieu Joseph beat Roberto Luongo with a backhand shot on a breakaway to put the Lighting up 1-0 just 59 seconds into the game. From there, the Panthers clawed back twice, but costly mistakes continued to open the door to goals for Tampa.
“The worst possible scenario for our start,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “You let a guy in behind and give him a breakaway goal. That’s Louie’s first real chance of the game. That’s not fair to him to get into the game. I thought we played hard after that.”
Aleksander Barkov made it a 4-2 game late in the second period, but the Lightning pulled away in the third, scoring three straight goals before Mike Hoffman stopped the bleeding in the final minutes of regulation. Luongo was pulled early in the third after allowing six goals on 28 shots.
“We kind of left Lu out to dry there,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to start the game. I thought we found our legs a little bit in the second and pushed back, but ultimately they were coming at us all game and we didn’t have the responses.”
Despite the loss, Florida (8-8-3) has still won six of its last nine games and will look to finish off its six-game road trip on a high note on Friday in Carolina.
“Every game’s important,” Ekblad said. “We came into this game talking we had to win 2-1 or 3-2. We had to limit their chances, and we didn’t. That’s the mindset going into Carolina. It’s not going to change, but we’ve obviously got to be a little tighter.”
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s loss in Tampa…
1. HOW YOU LIKE ME BROUW?
Troy Brouwer opened the scoring for the Panthers on Wednesday night, settling down a stretch pass from Micheal Haley before sniping a lethal wrist shot from the center of the right circle just 1:20 after Tampa’s Mathieu Joseph drew first blood to make it 1-1 at 2:19 of the first period.
“Great sauce,” said Brouwer, describing Haley’s pass.
Brouwer has certainly settled into an effective groove as of late, lighting the lamp in consecutive games and in four of his last seven overall. His five goals are the fifth-most on the Panthers and just one fewer than the six he recorded in 76 games with Calgary last season.
“We got a goal from our fourth line, but we just couldn’t seem to find that next even-strength goal,” Boughner said.
A Lightning-killer throughout his career, Brouwer, 33, has 12 goals in 27 games against Tampa.
2. HALEY’S HELPER
How nice is it to have Haley back?
With an assist on Brouwer’s first-period tally, the 32-year-old enforcer picked up a point in his second straight game since returning to the lineup after missing the start of the season due to personal issues. On Monday in Ottawa, he scored his first goal of the season during a 7-5 win.
A physical presence on the ice and a loud voice in the locker room, Haley tallied nine points, dished out 124 hits and led the league with a career-high 22 – nine more than the next highest player and the most in the NHL since 2010-11 – in a career-high 75 games last season.
Haley led all Panthers forwards with three hits in 11:06 of ice time against the Lightning.
3. BARKING AT THE MOON
Barkov put the Panthers within striking distance heading into the third period, taking a nifty cross-crease pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and pounding the puck in from the doorstep to make it 4-2 on the power play at 18:25 of the second period.
“Everybody’s doing their job,” Barkov said of the scoring play. “Huby and Yands and Hoff, they helped me on the face-off. They made really good plays. Huby’s back-door pass gave me an empty net.”
The goal was Barkov’s 267th point as a Panther, breaking a tie with Rob Niedermeyer for sole possession of ninth place on the franchise’s all-time points list. Radek Dvorak is up next at 268.
Barkov has now found his way onto the scoresheet in seven of the past eight games, registering five goals and four assists in that span. For the season, the 23-year-old center ranks third on the Panthers in goals (7) and fourth in points (18), while his 33 takeaways are the most in the NHL.
An absolute workhorse, Barkov skated 21:50 against Tampa to lead all forwards.
4. MORE FOR MIKE
Hoffman extended his career-best and franchise-record point streak to an astonishing 17 games on Wednesday night, blasting a one-timer from the right circle on the power play to cut Tampa’s lead down slightly to 7-3 at 16:25 of the third period.
Hoffman’s point streak is the longest in the NHL this season.
“It was not our best game for sure, coverage-wise,” Hoffman said of the loss. “They’re probably one of the best, if not the best, offensive teams in the league. When we’re not on top of our game and we’re going up against them, the outcome looks like that.”
Easily one of the biggest summer pickups in the NHL this season, Hoffman, who was acquired from San Jose on June 19 for a few draft picks, is just the is the fifth player in league history to have registered a point streak of at least 17 games in his first season with a new team.
In his first season with Florida, he leads the team in goals (10), points (20), and shots (70).
5. MAKE IT 10
The Panthers have now scored on the power play in a whopping 10 straight games.
Entering the night with the 8th-ranked power play in the league, Florida went 2-for-4 against the Lightning, improving to 14-for-35 (40 percent) over their streak. During that span, six different players have registered a point on the man advantage, while 10 have tallied at least one point.
By assisting on both Barkov and Hoffman’s goals, Keith Yandle notched his team-leading 11th and 12th points with the man advantage to move into a tie with Washington’s John Carlson for the league-league among defenseman. Hoffman leads Florida with four power play goals.
With a 25.6 percent success rate, the Panthers own the sixth-best power play in the NHL.