The Lightning avoided a shipwreck start to the season, salvaging a point from a 3-2 shootout loss to Florida on Saturday to complete a five-game road trip to start the season.
Tampa Bay finished the trip with a 1-2-2 record for four of a possible 10 points and return home to host the Panthers on Monday.
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored twice in the third period as Tampa Bay rallied twice to force the overtime. Mathieu Garon made 36 saves for Tampa Bay, while Florida's Jose Theodore made 28 stops in front of an announced sellout crowd of 18,352 for the Panthers' home opener. Marcel Goc had the only successful penalty shot attempt for the deciding goal.
"I thought we competed hard, but we still have a lot of areas to improve upon,'' Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "We fell behind and we show some character coming back but we have to figure things out. It was a long road trip but I think everyone has a lot better in them.''
The Lightning looked primed to lose the game late when Kris Versteeg hammed home a one-timer for Florida's second power-play goal of the game with 2:55 left. But Bergeron zipped a one-timer past Theodore 39 seconds later to force the game into overtime.
The shootout loss was the second of the trip for Tampa Bay, which also dropped a shootout to Washington.
"We are going to have to find a way and right now we are on the hard way, unfortunately, and it's not like we don't know it but it seems we are a little bit far from our performances from last year. But there are no more easy games and teams are waiting for us,'' Bergeron said.
A penalty-filled first period saw both teams spend much of the period on special teams, with Tampa Bay getting four consecutive calls against, giving the Panthers plenty of time with the man advantage. It was on the second Florida power play that Ed Jovanovski made the Lightning pay when his quick slap shot from the center slot found the back of the net at 11:48 and gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
The power-play goal allowed was the first of the season for Tampa Bay, which had killed off 22 consecutive to open the season. It also marked the fourth time in five games in which the Lightning have allowed the first goal of the game.
The whistles settled down in the second period as the teams were allowed to play at even strength for most of the period, but neither team could find the back of the net.
Florida had a chance to increase its lead when Ryan Malone tried a touch pass to Matt Gilroy in the offensive zone only to mishit the puck and allow the Panthers a 3-on-1 break the other way. But Bergeron got a piece of the shot attempt to break up the play and keep Tampa Bay within a goal.
Things heated up moments later when Florida rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson went after Steve Downie as the two engaged in a lengthy fight, with both players getting in solid right shots. After the two broke off, Downie grabbed Jovanovski — who went after Pavel Kubina a few shifts earlier — by the collar.
Gudbranson received an instigator call on the play as well as a unsportsmanlike penalty and a misconduct penalty, while Downie was whistled for unsportsmanlike and a 10-minute misconduct.
Tampa Bay started to make a push in the third period, taking over territorial play in the Florida zone. After generating some good chances, Bergeron tied the game at 9:43 of the period when he faked a slap shot before sending a wrist shot through traffic for his first goal of the season.
"We gave everything we had, and that's what we told the players. We are going to give everything we have, and any team can beat us, plain and simple,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "But our guys battled, we came back twice and we all know that we are not really a shootout team and it showed again.''