TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Reigning NHL MVP Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon scored in their Tampa Bay debuts, and the Lightning opened the season with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winners spoiled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s debut for the Panthers, who are counting on the two-time Vezina Trophy winner to help transform them into a playoff team.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots for Tampa Bay, which extended its winning streak in season openers to a league-best six.
Ondrej Palat snapped a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal midway through the third period. Maroon, who helped St. Louis win its first Stanley Cup last season, made it 4-2 before Erik Cernak added an empty-netter in the final minute.
The Lightning tied the NHL record with 62 wins last season, yet failed to win a single game in the playoffs, where they were swept in the first round by Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Bobrovsky, who led the NHL with nine shutouts last season, was 4-0 with a .932 save percentage during that series.
Besides hiring three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville, the 31-year-old goalie was Florida’s biggest offseason acquisition, signing a $70 million, seven-year contract in free agency.
Mike Hoffman scored in the second period for the Panthers, who got a short-handed goal from Vincent Trocheck to briefly make it 2-all at 8:49 of the third. Palat countered on the same power play, putting Tampa Bay ahead for good.
Mikhail Sergachev had assists on each of Tampa Bay’s first three goals. Alex Killorn also assisted on Shattenkirk’s goal midway through the second period before picking up another on Palat’s go-ahead score.
Notes: Bobrovsky stopped 25 of 29 shots. … The Lightning played without forward Brayden Point, who’s recovering from offseason hip surgery. The 23-year-old rising star, who last month signed a $20.25 million contract as a restricted free agent, could return before the end of the month. … Panthers D Keith Yandle played his 798th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the NHL and fifth-longest in league history. … This is the third straight year the Lightning and Panthers have opened the season against each other.
The intrastate rivals meet again Saturday in Sunrise, Florida.
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