By Anna Anderson, University of Miami
The Rookie Tournament came to an exciting finish with a battle for the tournament title between cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Both teams played an aggressive game, but the visiting Lightning edged out the Panthers by a 2-1 final.
Both teams hit the ice with their adrenaline pumping, and scored within a minute of each other. Panthers right winger Logan Shaw sent a pass to center Nick Bjugstad who skated to the front of the net and banged home his fourth goal (all in the last two games) six minutes in. Tampa Bay answered quickly however. Defenseman Slater Koekkoek sent a pass outside the blue line cross ice to Jake Dotchin who found a rushing Nikita Kucherov. For Kucherov, it continued his strong play over the three games and he wasn't done.
The Lightning continued to dominate in the second period. After a turnover, Kucherov and 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin scoring on a beautiful give-and-go quickly in the second period giving Tampa Bay the go-ahead and eventually game-winning goal.
Tension ran high as the rest of the second period got underway, resulting in two fights. The first fight broke out nine minutes into the period between the Bolts’ Carl Nielsen and the Cats’ Tony Turgeon. The brawl kept the momentum with the already aggressive Lightning resulting in pentalties for Adam Erne (elbowing) and Cedric Paquette (tripping). The Cats’ were unable to capitalize on the two-man advantage and the period ended with another fight between the Bolts’ Artem Sergeev and the Cats’ Wade Megan.
The fighting wasn't done as the two teams dropped the gloves in the third period. Tampa Bay’s Brett Welychka and Florida’s Josh McFadden were both penalized for fighting, followed by a second fight between Dotchin and Florida’s Josh Brown. Florida’s offense picked up its tempo with nine shots on goal in the third but Tampa Bay’s strong defense made clean passes and clear shots a difficult task. In the end, Florida was unable to get the equalizer past Tampa Bay goalkeeper Kristers Gudlevskis. The game ended with a Lightning 2-1 victory, solidifying their crown as the Rookie Tournament Champions thanks to their 2-0-1 record (5 points). Florida which would have won the tournament with a victory, finished third overall with two points (1-2-0) while Nashville ended in second place (1-1-1, 3 points) and Boston finished tied with Florida in points (0-1-2, 2 points).
“I actually thought today was our best game," said Tampa Bay coach Rob Zettler. "Offensively, without a doubt it was our best game. And then I thought we did some really good things defensively. We didn’t give up a lot. We killed penalties a lot better, which was nice. So overall it was really good. Drouin and Kucherov were kinda magical out there a few times too, a couple of some really nice chances and an unbelievable goal.”
Kucherov finished atop the tournament points race with seven points (4-3-7). He shared the goal-scoring lead with Bjugstad while the Florida forward (4-1-5) along with Boston's Spinell finished two points back of the Kucherov overall.
Tampa Bay shot first in the post-game five-man shoot out. Kucherov and Drouin both scored for the Lightning while Trevor Lewis scored on a beautiful deke for Florida but just like the game, the result was a 2-1 victory for Lightning.
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