SUNRISE — Tampa Bay closed the preseason looking like the team that ended last season as the Lightning lost an early lead before falling 5-3 to Florida on Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 12,547 at BB&T Center.
Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Brett Connolly scored for Tampa Bay, which fell to 5-2 in the preseason. Anders Lindback finished with 17 saves to take the loss.
Florida G Tim Thomas saw his first full action of the preseason and made 19 saves, while Kris Versteeg had two goals and an assist for the Panthers.
The Lightning returned home after the game after spending the final six days of training camp at Germain Arena in Estero. Tampa Bay now must cut the roster from the 33 players currently in camp to 23 ahead of Monday’s roster deadline.
For head coach Jon Cooper, the final game might have left some questions unanswered while clearing up some others.
“I think some guys muddied the water a little bit more (in making roster decisions) while some other guys made it easier for us,’’ Cooper said. “But we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we are going to do and we are not going to deviate from it. Some guys played their way in and some guys played their way out. Everybody will find out (today).”
The Lightning open the regular season on Thursday in Boston.
Stamkos and Connolly scored first-period goals less than four minutes apart for a quick two-goal lead. But Brad Boyes scored at 11:33 to cut the lead in half before the first intermission.
In the second, shaky goaltending by Lindback on Scott Gomez’s wrist shot to the short side eluded Lindback 1:19 into the second for a power-play goal to tie the game. Then a Jesse Winchester wrist shot from the top of the right circle went through Lindback’s legs at 5:25 to give Florida the lead.
“By no means is it the goaltender, it’s everybody,’’ Cooper said. “The goaltender is always the one in the end you look at and say, ‘Why didn’t he stop it?’ But how did it get to that point because at some point the puck got there. So we just have to tighten that up a little bit.’’
With 3:31 left in the second, Richard Panik hit Florida’s Erik Gudbranson into the boards from behind, drawing a five-minute boarding major and giving Florida a five-minute power play.
“He turned at the last minute and I continued with my check,’’ Panik said. “I hope he’s OK.’’
The Lightning limited the Panthers to two shots during the lengthy man advantage. Then, just 32 seconds after the power play expired, St. Louis scored his second goal of the preseason to tie the game 2:02 into the third.
The Panthers regained the lead midway through the final period during a scramble around the crease, leading to a fortuitous bounce that found Versteeg alone at the top of the crease for an easy go-ahead goal at 11:22.
Versteeg added an empty-net goal with 59.5 seconds left to end the scoring.
Change of view
During the first four preseason games, assistant coach George Gwozdecky helped run the bench while Steve Thomas watched the game from the press box as the eye in the sky relaying information to the bench. But for the final three games, the two switched positions with Thomas on the bench and Gwozdecky in the press box.
“George has been behind the bench his whole career and (Thomas) was on the ice his whole career, so you have two different perspectives and it works really well,’’ Cooper said. “I like having different perspectives, George has never been on the bench for us before, so this offers two different looks and two different insights and it’s worked out. I haven’t decided if we are going to continue to do this, but so far it’s worked out well.’’
Nuts and Bolts
D J.P. Cote left the game in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return. He will be evaluated today. ... Stamkos left the ice briefly after landing awkwardly on his back after his first-period goal, but he did not miss a shift. ... LW Ryan Malone, who missed two days earlier in the week, is expected to be ready for Thursday’s regular-season opener. ... Syracuse won its second consecutive preseason game on Saturday, a 1-0 victory against St. John’s. Geoff Walker had the only goal. The same teams will play again today.