Lightning start strong, roll over Blackhawks

Ondrej Palat scored on Tampa Bay’s first power play of the season in a three-goal first period, and the Lightning began their Stanley Cup title defense with a season-opening 5-1 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

Playing their first game without high-scoring winger Nikita Kucherov – out the entire regular season after hip surgery last month – the Lightning received tallies from Palat, Mathieu Joseph and Anthony Cirelli in the opening frame.

Steven Stamkos had a goal and two assists, and Brayden Point and Cirelli each had a goal and a helper. Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman notched two assists each.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, among the NHL’s leading goaltenders last season with 35 regular-season wins and 18 more in the playoffs, collected his first this season by turning aside 22 of 23 shots by Chicago.

Tampa Bay improved its NHL-best winning percentage to .714 (19-7-2) in 28 season openers.

Dylan Strome scored on a power for Chicago, and goalie Malcolm Subban stopped 28 of 33 shots in his 61st NHL start.

Before the first of the Central Division clubs’ eight meetings, the Lightning displayed their second Stanley Cup banner in front of their players at center ice of an empty Amalie Arena – vowing to raise it all the way to the rafters when fans were allowed to return.

They won their first Cup in the 2003-04 season with a series-clinching Game 7 win over the Calgary Flames, and added their second just over three months ago by defeating the Dallas Stars in six.

On the game’s third power play and Tampa Bay’s second, Hedman’s shot from the point was stopped solidly by Subban. But Palat made a nifty skate-to-stick kick of the puck to gain control in front of the goalie and popped in the club’s first goal at 10:39.

Joseph increased the lead to 2-0 when his shot from below the goal line got behind Subban and rolled around. The goalie then slid across the blue paint and inadvertently pushed it in at 16:18.

Erik Cernak’s shot shortly afterward was headed well wide of the net, and Cirelli cleverly redirected it in at 17:57 for a 3-0 advantage.

Stamkos ripped his first goal on a power play at 9:56 of the second off a pass from Point, and Point’s slapper from the slot from Stamkos at 6:45 of the third rounded out Tampa Bay’s scoring.

Strome’s goal at 16:36 broke up Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid.

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