SUNRISE — With one squirt of water, Florida RW Scottie Upshall nearly triggered an uproar.
Instead the veteran forward found a way to get Tampa Bay rookie D Radko Gudas ejected from the Lightning's 4-3 shootout victory Sunday.
Midway through the second period, shortly after Gudas' power-play goal gave the Lightning a 3-1 lead, Gudas was sitting on the ice in front of the Florida bench after missing a hit along the boards. With the play stopped on an offsides call, Upshall pulled out a bottle and squirted water at Gudas, who then raised up to his knees and slashed his stick against the top of the boards, snapping the stick in half.
Gudas ended up with a slashing minor, a 10-minute misconduct penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct, which carries an ejection, at 12:51 of the second period. Upshall received an unsportsmanlike minor, but remained in the game and had the assist on the game-tying goal.
Gudas declined to discuss the situation after the game, but his absence forced Tampa Bay to play nearly half the game with five defensemen while playing the second half of back-to-back games.
“These guys are competitors, so if something is going to happen, naturally our guys are going to react, so it's a savvy little play on their part,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “They ended up knocking a defenseman out of the game for us and I guess good on them. But in my opinion, and my opinion doesn't count for much, I would not have kicked (Gudas) out.”
While losing Gudas put the team in a bit of a bind having to play the rest of the game short a defenseman, watching the rugged blue liner's reaction was understood by many.
“I think he plays best when he plays with emotion and that's when things happen,” defenseman Sami Salo said. “I don't want him to try to control that. I think that's when he plays his best and I wouldn't blame him for that.”
When Cooper handed in his lineup sheet with the top three shootout participants, the final two selections were D Victor Hedman and Salo to follow Valtteri Filppula.
While Filppula, who is now 2-for-2 on the season, was no surprise to kick things off for the Lightning, choosing a pair of defensemen might have had some scratching their heads for the rationale behind the move. But Tampa Bay often ends practice with shootout drills, and Salo and Hedman have been among the more successful participants in recent weeks, though both missed their chances to close out the game Sunday.
“There was probably a few eyebrows raised as a couple of defensemen go, but ... shootouts you judge so many different ways,” Cooper said. “And to me, ... I thought Sammy and Victor had good games, they have been good in shootouts for us at practice, so I don't see any problem with letting them go.”
The kids are all right
The trio of C Tyler Johnson, LW Ondrej Palat and RW Richard Panik started out the season as the third line, a combination that enjoyed plenty of success in the American Hockey League the previous two seasons.
But a few games into the season, Cooper broke up the trio, swapping Panik with RW Teddy Purcell. In the third period Saturday against Buffalo, however, the three were back together and came up with a big play as Palat scored the game-winning goal.
“Sometimes you just have to go with what you feel and we had a lot of shots on goals from everybody without results,” Cooper said. “And the Johnson-Panik-Palat line has had a lot of success together, and it was just time (to reunite them) I guess.
“Stuff like that makes the coach look really good but ultimately it wasn't about that, honestly. We had one goal in 50-plus minutes and we needed to shake things up and it just fortunately worked out for us.”
Cooper kept the line intact for Sunday's game, and though Panik picked up an assists on Gudas' power-play goal, the three were on the ice for both third-period goals against the Lightning.
Nuts and Bolts
D Keith Aulie and D Mark Barberio were scratched. ... Florida LW Tomas Fleischmann was scratched with the flu. ... Tampa Bay has killed off 23 of the past 24 power plays against.