Lightning, Panthers relying on backup goaltenders

SUNRISE, Fla. — The host Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will meet Saturday night at the BB&T Center, have been relying on backup goalies a lot lately.

For the Lightning, it’s Louis Domingue, a 26-year-old Canadian who is 9-4-0 this season with a 3.25 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. He has filled in effectively for starter Andrei Vasilevskiy, who on Saturday will miss his 10th consecutive game due to a fractured left foot.

A former fifth-round pick, Domingue was in the American Hockey League when the Lightning acquired him on November 24, 2017. The plan was to bring in Domingue to the organization as a third-string, emergency goalie.

But when Lightning backup Peter Budaj got injured, Domingue got called up to Tampa Bay and went 7-3-1 — the first winning record in an NHL career that started in 2014.

Before the trade, Lightning scouts liked the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Domingue’s size and athleticism, and they have proven to have keen eyes.

“(Domingue) has ended up making us look good,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois told The Tampa Bay Times. “He went beyond what we realistically could’ve expected.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers have played most of this season without starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who is 4-3-0 this season with a 3.07 GAA and a .902 save percentage.

Coincidentally, he injured his knee against Tampa Bay in this year’s season opener and is once again out due to a lower-body issue.

James Reimer has stepped in for Luongo, producing a 5-6-2 record, including Friday’s 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Reimer made 22 saves, and the Panthers won on an overtime goal by captain Aleksander Barkov.

Evgenii Dadonov and Jared McCann also scored, and Jonathan Huberdeau added two assists, including one on the game-winner.

This was the first time in a while that Huberdeau had been reunited on the same line as Barkov and it worked.

“It was so fun,” Barkov said. “We haven’t played together for a while. It’s fun to play with a guy who thinks about the game the same way.”

Huberdeau leads the team with 26 points, and Mike Hoffman tops the Panthers with 12 goals. Dadonov is second in goals (11) and points (24). And Barkov, who has nine goals and 22 points, is in the thick of the race for team honors as well.

Nikita Kucherov leads Tampa Bay with 35 points, and Brayden Point tops the Lightning with 18 goals. Steven Stamkos ranks third on the team with 22 points, and he is likely due a breakout game at any time.

This will be the third time this season the Lightning and Panthers have met. The host Lightning won 2-1 in a shootout in the season opener. That’s the game where Luongo got hurt the first time.

In the rematch, Luongo was back in the nets, and this time only his pride was hurt as the visiting Lightning beat him and the Panthers 7-3.

As for the standings in the Atlantic Division, the Lightning (18-7-1) lead with 37 points, and the Panthers (10-10-4) are in the cellar with 24 points.