SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Aaron Ekblad and Alex Wennberg each had a goal and an assist and the Florida Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Thursday night.

Frank Vatrano, Carter Verhaeghe and Brett Connolly also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky turned aside 19 of 21 shots.

Braden Point scored twice for Tampa Bay, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves. The Lighting had won six straight.

The teams will meet again Saturday night in Sunrise.

With captain Steven Stamkos out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, Tampa Bay lacked its usual firepower while Florida was highly effective in its offensive end.

Panthers’ coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with the balanced attack among all the lines as Florida outhustled the Lightning to the puck throughout the contest.

“I thought we had a real strong game across the board. I thought all the lines had a lot of speed and won some races,” Quenneville said. “We had a lot of possession zone time. I thought it was an excellent game.”


The Panthers opened the scoring midway through the first period when Vatrano took a feed from Owen Tippett behind the net and put a one-timer past Vasilevskiy. Wennberg made it 2-0 at 8:31 of the second, with Jonathan Huberdeau getting his 300th NHL assist on the play.

Huberdeau is the first player in Panthers’ franchise history to reach the 300-assist milestone.

“It was a great (win), especially against a team that’s so talented and has been good for such a long time,” Vatrano said. “We knew we had to start out on the right foot. We need to play hard-nosed hockey and we did that for a full 60 (minutes).”

Point cut it to 2-1 on a power play at 10:55 of the second, and Ekblad and Verhaeghe countered quickly with goals in a 2:01 span in the period. Point scored again on a power play 54 seconds into the third.

”(The Panthers) came out ready to play. They outskated us; they were winning races,” said Point, who added to his team-leading points total (16) with the pair of goals. “We were slow to pucks and they took advantage.

Connolly scored into an empty net.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper emphasized that the Panthers came out ready to play and his team was unable to match the hosts’ intensity


“They were a pretty determined group,” Cooper said of Florida’s effort. “I’m sure they had this one circled for a while. They have a lot of new guys out there and they compete really hard. They’ve got some skill.”


Through their first 11 games, the Lightning had outscored their opponents, 15-3, in the second period. Thursday night, the Panthers scored three of their five goals over that 20-minute span.


Verhaeghe, who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with Tampa Bay last season, agreed to a two-year contract with Florida on Oct. 9. He was credited with a second-period goal — his team-leading seventh this season and which upped his point total to 10 –when his attempted pass caroomed off the skate of Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak.


In addition to Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli left the ice in the latter stages of the third period and his injury is unknown.

“It didn’t look great when he came off but we’ll know more later,” Cooper said.

Stamkos, who is listed as day to day, had played in all 11 games for Tampa Bay, logging seven goals and seven assists. He was also key on the Lightning’s power-play unit having scored four times.

The Tampa Bay captain did not play the final 5:26 of a 6-1 victory at Nashville on Tuesday night. In that contest, he scored two goals and added an assist.


Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky stopped all 16 shots he faced at even strength and improved to 5-0-1, his best record through his first six games in his career. His season-opening performance is second to only John Vanbiesbrouck (6-0-3 through nine games in 1996-97).