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Burns: Three things from a slump-busting win in Dallas

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay won on the road for the first time since a 4-2 victory in Montreal on January 6 by beating Dallas 5-3 on Thursday.

Twice, the Stars rallied to tie the score, but the Lightning weren’t discouraged, eventually pulling away late in the third period.

The Bolts (71 points) remain two points ahead of Detroit (69) and four points clear of Montreal (67) in the Atlantic Division and trail only the Western Conference’s Anaheim (74), Nashville (72) and St. Louis (72) for the top spot in the NHL.

Tampa Bay will get a crack at the Ducks on Sunday and follows with a road game at Nashville (Tuesday) and a home rematch with the Blues (Thursday).

But before looking ahead to a difficult upcoming week, let’s recap the recently-completed two-game road trip, a successful one for the Bolts after picking up three of a possible four points.

1. CAN THE DADS COME ON ALL THE ROAD TRIPS?

Not only was it cool seeing the Lightning players’ fathers celebrate when the Sun Sports cameras would pan their way after a Lightning goal, but they also spurred the Bolts to some of their best play of the season.

Tampa Bay was the better team for 60-plus minutes in a showdown with the third-ranked team in the NHL, St. Louis, and was unlucky to come away with only one point after giving up a late equalizer.

Against Dallas, the Bolts persevered against the plucky Stars, pulling away three separate times, the last time for good.

On the two-game mini-road trip, Tampa Bay played well in five out of six periods. Its only slip up came in the second at Dallas, when the Stars outshot the Bolts 17-6 and scored twice to set up a thrilling third.

The Bolts played perhaps their best set of back-to-back road games this season, other than maybe consecutive 4-2 victories at Ottawa (Jan. 4) and Montreal (Jan. 6). They snapped a four-game losing skid away from Amalie Arena in the process.

So how much would it cost to bring the dads along for the rest of the season?

2. SLUMP NO MORE

Apparently, the Metroplex is the place where scoring droughts go to die.

Three separate Bolts ended long-running scoreless streaks, including All-Star center Tyler Johnson, who bagged a pair of goals in the third period to send the Bolts to victory.

Johnson had gone nine games without scoring (10 if you count the game he missed with a lower-body injury) until his power-play marker midway through the third period pulled the Bolts in front 3-2. The goal was just the fourth on the power play in the last 10 games for the Lightning.

Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman was mired in a four-game point slump until his slap shot from the point beat a screened Kari Lehtonen, Hedman’s first goal since January 4.

Nikita Kucherov was even thirstier having not scored in 2015. His short-handed tally with 1:17 remaining sealed the victory and improved the Bolts record to 6-3-1 in their last 10.

Getting the Triplets off the snide was particularly important for the Lightning. Since the Edmonton game on Jan. 15, the line had tallied just one point (an assist by Johnson) entering Dallas. The Killorn/Paquette/Drouin line had picked up the scoring slack of late but getting all three lines to produce (plus whatever the Boyle line can give you offensively) at the same time will make the Lightning that much more dangerous come playoffs.

3. BOILER ROOM

Lightning center Brian Boyle played some defense during his collegiate hockey at Boston College and a little bit more on the blue line in his AHL days with the Manchester Monarchs.

So, when the Lightning lost Jason Garrison to a lower-body injury in the third period, leaving them with just five defenseman, Boyle slid back to the blue line to provide a bit of relief.

The move worked beautifully.

Boyle was able to do a more-than-adequate job with his defensive responsibilities. And he supplied an assist on Tampa Bay’s game-winning goal.

Boyle started the play by knocking over Jamie Benn at center ice to force a turnover and send the American Airlines Center crowd into an uproar. He then pounced on a loose puck on the left boards and shoveled it toward goal, where Johnson knocked it past Lehtonen with a waist-high tip of his stick.

“Guys are stepping up,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said following the game. “We went down to five defensemen in the third period, and Boyle chips in and plays D down the stretch for us. Everybody was chipping in in different ways.”

Boyle has filled the emergency defenseman role before this season for the Lightning. His versatility and knack for producing goals at key moments has been invaluable for the Bolts and should continue to be a key for the team down the stretch.

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