Bright Spots From Florida Panthers' Shootout Loss to Tampa Bay Lightning

By Mike Lewis
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Despite falling 4-3 in a shootout loss to the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers once again showed an ability to storm back in the third period to tie a game.

Trailing 3-1 in the third period, the Panthers got a goal off of a deflected puck by center Nick Bjugstad to put them within one. The 21-year old has two goals in his career and they are both against the Lightning. His goal was one of hard work, great positioning and using his 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame well.

Creating traffic in front of opposing goaltenders is an issue the Panthers have had this season, Bjugstad proved that good things can happen when you go to the net. He lost the faceoff, but hustled to keep it in Florida’s possession, got in front of the net and tipped in a shot from the point. He was solid in his game against Tampa Bay, especially in the faceoff circle where he won 10 out of 16 faceoffs on the night.

Bjugstad has earned the trust of head coach Kevin Dineen and as of right now, he looks like he’s staying put in Florida’s lineup.

After a dismal first period where they found themselves trailing 2-0 early, the Panthers got on the board thanks to Shawn Matthias. The 25-year old forward looked as though he was coming into his own after a strong 2012-13 season, but has struggled this season. He even admitted to losing sleep over the lack of production coming off his stick this year.

His play so far has been good defensively, and he has had many opportunities to capitalize on but failed to convert. It was about time Matthias got his first goal. Now that that elusive first of the season is out of the way, what he does next is up to him. The Mississauga, Ontario native has had issues with his consistency and confidence during his NHL career. The Panthers need Matthias to step up and become a consistent offensive player if he wants to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.

Brad Boyes was set to be a healthy scratch in this game, but due to Tomas Fleischmann being scratched due to illness, Boyes got to play. In the third period, he flashed a beautiful deke and put the puck between the legs of Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback to tie the game at three.

He would again redeem himself after scoring the Panthers’ only shootout goal with another beautiful move. Boyes, who is now playing for his sixth NHL team in his career, has been called out due to a lack of consistent play before. The Panthers need more from him while Kris Versteeg struggles with his own similar issues.

Boyes should be in the lineup next game, but if he wants to stay out of the press box for the future, he needs to put the puck in the net or at least earn the coaching staff’s trust on the ice. He’s gotten a glimpse of how he’s being evaluated and he certainly doesn’t want to find himself in that situation again.

The Panthers controlled the play of the third period, but Florida needs to control a full game. Their starts have been questionable, but there is no denying the Panthers can stage third-period comebacks after overcoming two-goal deficits in the final period three times in their last five games.

Florida will now be able to take a breath and reflect on their first month of the season as they have four days off until their next game against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. This could prove to be something they need more specifically to buy time  for goaltender Tim Thomas, who is nursing a lower-body injury sustained against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Mike Lewis is a Florida Panthers writer for Follow him on Twitter @MLewsy11, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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