On Tuesday in St. Louis, despite losing in overtime, the Lightning played one of their most solid road games of the season. They were not able to replicate that performance on this night in Dallas. But despite some uneven play, especially in the second period, the Lightning rebounded in the third. It was their best period in the game – and the difference in the 5-3 win.
The Stars are a highly-skilled, fast, dangerous offensive team. They’ll feast on turnovers and, if given time and space to make plays, will make the opposition pay. But they are also a leaky defensive club. When the Lightning were able to establish a forecheck, they kept the Stars hemmed back in the Dallas d-zone and players generated open looks on goalie Kari Lehtonen.
The Bolts were able to establish an offensive zone presence in the opening minutes and cashed in for goals on their first two shots. Following an open look for Anton Stralman, who shot the puck just wide, Ryan Callahan passed the puck back to Mark Barberio at the left point. Barberio delivered a bouncing shot toward the net that Steven Stamkos redirected into the net with a swinging swipe. Just over three minutes later (after killing off a Dallas power play), Stamkos rushed the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it to Victor Hedman. Hedman’s first shot was blocked, but it came right back to him. He hurried a second shot through a screen past Lehtonen’s stick.
But the Bolts weren’t able to maintain the momentum. As the first period progressed, the Stars spent more and more time in the Lightning zone. The Stars finished with 11 first period shots (eight of those from the dangerous trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza) and forced Andrei Vasilevskiy to make several tough saves.
That trend continued into the second. Although the Lightning did generate a few good scoring chances in the period (the best of those was a breakaway for Valtteri Filppula), they found themselves pinned back in their own end for most of the frame. The Stars were able to capitalize on sloppy Lightning puck management to keep applying pressure. Also, the Lightning did not match the Stars’ offensive zone urgency, so Dallas’ top players had time to make plays. Vasilevskiy kept them off the board until the final five minutes of the period. But then the Stars struck for two goals in 15 seconds. Rookie John Klingberg rifled a shot from the slot into the top part of the net. Then, on the ensuring shift, the Stars barreled into offensive zone on a three-on-one and Alex Goligoski tipped in a Vernon Fiddler centering pass. Vasilevskiy prevented the Stars from grabbing the lead before the period ended – he finished with 15 second period stops, including an in-alone shorthanded bid for Fiddler in the closing seconds.
But as mentioned earlier, the Lightning regrouped for the third. Their puck management was crisper. They cut down on neutral zone turnovers. They closed gaps on Dallas players in the Lightning d-zone. And they had a shooting mentality, putting 16 third period shots on net (after posting only 13 total through the first two frames).
Although they didn’t score on them, two early third period power plays helped set the tone for the period – particularly the second of those, on which they generated some good looks. Later, during a third power play chance, they cashed in. The line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, which had been held to one total assist during the past six games, finally broke through at 12:27. (They had been getting lots of chances during those six contests, especially in recent games, but had been a bit snake-bitten). Kucherov wired a cross-ice pass to Johnson at the right circle. He snapped a high shot past Lehtonen, who couldn’t get over to his left in time. Even though the Stars tied it 1:14 later, the Lightning kept pressing and retook the lead with 3:37 remaining. After an injury to Jason Garrison left the Bolts with five D, Brian Boyle took a shift on defense. He knocked down Jamie Benn in the neutral zone, nullifying a potential Dallas rush and dislodging the puck from Benn. The Lightning countered into the offensive zone and a Johnson pass ricocheted off Palat back to Boyle at the left point. Johnson came out of the corner to tip the Boyle shot past Lehtonen. This time, the Lightning didn’t lose the lead. Kucherov finished the scoring with an empty-netter. The “Triplets” had combined for all three third period goals.
So this one may not have been a Picasso. But Vasilevskiy’s play helped the Lightning escape the second period in a 2-2 game. And the Lightning showed resiliency in turning momentum around in the third. And regaining the lead after the Stars had tied it in the third.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Johnson’s second goal, which turned out to be the game-winner at 16:23 of the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two goals, including GWG.
2.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 33 saves.
3.John Klingberg – Stars. Goal.