Saturday's pre-season action saw yet another comeback by the Panthers but for the second straight comeback attempt, they would ultimately fall via the shootout. Following Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss in which they netted two late third period goals to force overtime against the Stars, Florida would get a goal from Bobby Butler with 57.3 seconds remaining to force overtime only to see the Tampa Bay Lightning skate off with the 5-4 victory.
The Panthers would trail 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 with Butler ultimately tying it for the last time when he fired a shot far side on Ben Bishop with an extra attacker on the ice.
"It was up and down. It was a good game," said Butler. "Too bad we couldn't win but it was a good comeback from the guys."
In the shootout, Bishop earned the victory as he stopped Butler and Dmitry Kulikov while forward Brad Boyes missed wide. On the other side, 2013 No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin beat Jacob Markstrom on a deke and backhand in the third round for the victory.
"That was our most competitive game. This is a team we see a lot. We see them a lot this week and a lot this year. I think it's always a good competitive game and guys for the most part showed a lot of effort," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "We got the shootout, something we're going to have to address this week and continue to work at. Get our go-to guys in there and get them ready to roll."
A slow moving first period on the Panthers end, the Lightning jumped on the board just 3:08 into the game. Victor Hedman sent a shot off the back boards that Ryan Malone collected and stuffed short side past a scrambling Jacob Markstrom.
Florida then got in penalty trouble and it cost them. With Eric Selleck and Mike Mottau sitting in the box for a Lightning 5-on-3 power play for almost a full two minutes, Martin St Louis took the cross-ice feed from Steven Stamkos and scored top shelf into the wide open net.
Play picked up in the second as the teams combined for 25 shots and three goals. For Florida it was the power play that got them back into the game. Erik Gudbranson used a screening Brad Boyes to net his third of the pre-season 9:40 into the middle period. JT Brown gave the Lightning a two-goal advantage once again 1:35 later as he scored top shelf off a rush up the ice but Kulikov got the Cats to within one 55 seconds later. With Dana Tyrell in the box for holding, Kulikov's slapshot was just enough to beat Ben Bishop as it snuck past the goal line after the big net minder got a piece of it.
In the third, it was Butler taking over for the Panthers. He tied the game with his first of the night 4:14 in as he put the puck into the wide open net after Bishop stopped Tomas Kopecky's initial shot. Stamkos looked like he would give the home crowd the win in regulation when he tipped home Matt Carle's shot with 7:25 to play for his third point of the night but Butler took the feed from Gudbranson to net the tying goal.
"He is," said Dineen on Butler making a statement to stay with the Panthers come opening night. "He's fighting for a job and he needed to make a statement with his game and he had a good effort there tonight."
Play got chippy in the third with Kulikov mixing it up Malone and then in overtime Scott Gomez and Radko Gudas were involved in an altercation that drew the ire of the coaching staff. That led to a 3-on-3 experience that saw chances by Stamkos, Boyes and Kulikov before Stamkos took a penalty with eight seconds remaining in the overtime period.
Playing their fifth pre-season game of the season, Florida has made comeback attempts in all but the game in San Antonio Friday night, going 2-0-2 over that span. It's something that is a good test but that the team doesn't want to continue to do.
"Good teams can come back from anything and so far we're showing that, just coming back every game," said Butler. "Hopefully we can focus on that but focus on coming out with a lead."
Kulikov finished the game with a game-high three points (goal, two assists) while Butler (two goals), Gudbranson (goal, assist) and Kopecky (two assists) finished with two points each. Markstrom turned aside 29 shots in the loss.
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