LIGHTNING 2, PANTHERS 1: The reigning champs win, but get a taste of the tough road ahead in a battle with feisty Florida.
By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published October 9, 2005
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Lightning left wing Fredrik Modin beats Florida's Roberto Luongo stick side for the game's first goal and the season's first goal scored on Luongo.
TAMPA - So this is what it's like to be the defending champion.
For those who skate under the Stanley Cup banner, there is no such thing as a night off. Nothing resembles a "gimme game." Every shift is a dog fight, every game a struggle. Even when the buzzer sounds, you can't be positive the game is over.
On back-to-back nights, the Florida Panthers, thought to be nothing but an average-at-best team, gave the Lightning everything they had. On Friday, it was good enough to knock off Tampa Bay. On Saturday, the Lightning got some instant revenge with a wacky, but gutsy 2-1 victory in front of 20,933 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"I think we're going to get everybody's A game just like this game," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "Who won't be gunning for us? I expect nothing less from every team every night."
The Lightning might not be able to handle any more.
But Saturday, it got goals from Fredrik Modin and Marty St. Louis and a bona fide No. 1 effort out of new No. 1 goalie John Grahame.
"Grammer was awesome," Sarich said. St. Louis added, "He was standing on his head and that's why we won."
Grahame turned in a solid effort in Friday's 2-0 (including an empty-net goal) loss at Florida, but blamed himself after allowing a questionable goal with 2:27 remaining. Coach John Tortorella had every excuse he needed to go with veteran Sean Burke on Saturday, but went back to Grahame.
"I thought it was a good situation to see Johnny coming back after a situation like (Friday's loss)," Tortorella said. "He certainly impressed everybody as far as his mental toughness."
Tortorella, quite frankly, wanted to see how Grahame responded.
"It was nice to get to come back and kind of redeem myself for (Friday) night," Grahame said.
His redemption was a 28-save performance, including a no-look, back-to-the-play leg save during a goal-mouth scramble in the game's final seconds.
"Pucks were coming from everywhere," Grahame said. "I kind of got twisted and I was just trying to shoot my legs out everywhere to cover as much net as I could."
The final seconds were reviewed by video, not because someone thought he saw the puck cross the line, but because it was hard to believe Grahame kept the puck out.
Even after officials confirmed no goal, Grahame didn't leave the ice until checking out the replay on the scoreboard.
It was a wild ending to a game in which each team had 10 power plays and the Lightning solved longtime nemesis Roberto Luongo, who started the season with back-to-back shutouts, including Friday.
"You really have to work to get the chances you get against (the Panthers)," St. Louis said. "And then when you do get the chance, you have to beat Luongo and, obviously, his numbers speak for themselves."
The Lightning snapped Luongo's shutout streak at 140:55 when Modin, just released from the penalty box, scored on a breakaway.
It looked as if the game was iced when St. Louis scored midway through the third period on a five-on-three power play.
But the Panthers had four power plays in the final six minutes and used the man advantage to cut the lead in half when Joe Nieuwendyk scored with 51.8 seconds left.
Then came the final mad scramble that the Lightning survived. Barely.
It was good enough, however, to earn praise.
"I thought we played hard," Tortorella said. "I don't think we're firing on all cylinders. I think we're struggling at certain parts of the game, but I feel much better about the club than I did after (Friday) night's game because of effort."
On Saturday, the Lightning needed every ounce of it.