Panthers, Lightning renew acquaintances in opener

The Florida Panthers allowed general manager Dale Tallon to open the checkbook after the 2018-19 season, and both are banking on good results in South Florida this year.

The Panthers open their season on the road against the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

In a commitment to win now, ownership gave Tallon the go-ahead to spend near the salary cap ceiling, and he didn't wait long to improve the club.

He hired former Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup-winner, on April 8, just two days after Florida's season ended as coach Bob Boughner was fired.

The move reunited the GM and coach from their days with the Blackhawks when they helped the club capture the 2010 Stanley Cup.

With forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman in prime scoring form -- the quartet combined for 129 goals and 328 points last season -- Tallon set out to shore up the back end.

The key piece was signing unrestricted free agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who led the Columbus Blue Jackets to a shocking sweep of the Lightning in the quarterfinal round of last season's Eastern Conference playoffs.

The 31-year-old Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goalie, inked a seven-year, $70 million contract on July 1 when free agency opened.

Last year's shortcomings -- the team finished fifth in the tough Atlantic Division -- marked the third straight season Florida missed the playoffs.

"You've got to love the way he competes and prepares himself," Quenneville said of the Russian goalie on Tuesday. "He anticipates well, his quickness, he studies the game around the net.

"He's excited about being here in Florida and wants to make a difference. I think you can feel that commitment."

The club also brought in former Lightning players Brett Connolly (right wing) and Anton Stralman (defenseman). Gritty center Noel Acciari was signed from the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins.

Florida and Tampa Bay played three preseason games against each other last week and will face off again in the Panthers' home opener on Saturday, meeting five times in 12 days in the short trip from Tampa to Sunrise.

Not surprisingly, tensions ran high in the trio of preseason games, ending with multiple fights, one fine and at least three significant injuries for the Lightning.

Last season's Presidents' Trophy winner after a historic 62-16-4 regular season, Tampa Bay will start the new campaign without 41-goal, 92-point scorer Brayden Point.

Point, 23, had a breakout season last year, but the restricted free agent didn't agree to the Lightning's three-year deal that will pay Point $20.25 million until Sept. 23.

However, the Calgary native had offseason hip surgery and has been participating in practice in a non-contact jersey.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper also must deal with injuries to forward Tyler Johnson and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman.

The team placed bottom-six center Cedric Paquette (arm) on injured reserve Tuesday.

"Johnson is day-to-day, wait and see, same with Hedman. So not ideal to start, but we're hopeful on Johnson and Hedman," Cooper said on Tuesday.

Gemel Smith will center the fourth line in place of Paquette.

Tampa Bay signed defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, big forward Pat Maroon and veteran backup goalie Curtis McElhinney in free agency.

--Field Level Media