The Dallas Stars are one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL. They are also one of the leakiest defensive clubs in the league. Both aspects were on display at Amalie Arena on Saturday. The Lightning outgunned the Stars to post their franchise-record 26th home win of the season.
Stars forward Tyler Seguin returned from a knee injury after missing 10 games. He plays on a line with Jamie Benn. Shortly after the game began, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff added Jason Spezza to that line. They form a lethal trio – and they generated many of the Stars’ scoring chances in this game. But the Lightning generated plenty of chances themselves. They got dangerous looks off the rush (they netted three of their goals off the rush) and following offensive zone steals. They enjoyed more extended offensive zone shifts than the Stars did. But, as has been the case at points during the last few games, the Lightning also were guilty of some poor puck decisions, errors that led to Dallas opportunities.
The Bolts outscored the Stars, 2-1, in the first. They received three first period power play chances, drawing all three penalties in the offensive zone. The Stars use an aggressive penalty kill (which has helped produce nine shorthanded goals, tied the for league lead) and for much of those PP opportunities, the Lightning had difficulty finding time and space in the offensive zone. Still, they scored on their second PP chance – Ondrej Palat retrieved the puck deep in the offensive zone and dropped to Anton Stralman at the right point. Stralman’s shot deflected off a Dallas player and careened into the net off goalie Jhonas Enroth.
Seguin tied the game with a bullet shot from the left circle during a Dallas power play. The Lightning had an opportunity to clear the zone about 15 seconds before the goal, but turned the puck over instead. The Stars nearly took the lead on the next shift following another Lightning d-zone turnover, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made a close range save on Vernon Fiddler. Then, the Bolts exited the zone and Ondrej Palat fed Nikita Kucherov for a shot from the bottom of the left circle that beat Enroth on the short side.
Another Lightning turnover early in the second led to Seguin’s second goal. Mark Barberio’s pass to Ondrej Palat in the neutral zone was intercepted by John Klingberg, who carried it back into the Tampa Bay end. The Bolts lost coverage on Seguin, who wired a quick shot from the slot past Vasilevskiy. The Stars took the lead at 11:03 of the frame when Fiddler deflected in a left point shot from Alex Goligoski. The Lightning lost a couple of puck battles in the defensive zone before yielding the goal.
Down 3-2, the Lightning carried play for most of the final nine minutes of the second. They posted eight of their eleven second period shots after the Fiddler goal and that total doesn’t include a Tyler Johnson attempt that hit the crossbar. Many of their looks were Grade-A chances, but Enroth stopped them all.
Early in the third, the Lightning committed another sloppy d-zone turnover, but Vasilevskiy made key saves on Jordie Benn and Colton Sceviour, keeping the deficit at one. About a minute later, Alex Killorn tied the game with a goal off the rush. He took a Ryan Callahan pass and kicked the puck from his skate to his stick. From the left circle, he roofed the shot over Enroth. That goal sparked the Bolts, who retook the lead under two minutes later. Following a long sequence in the Dallas end, the Stars cleared the zone. But at center ice, Victor Hedman reversed the puck to Palat, who set up Tyler Johnson in the slot. Johnson slid the puck to Hedman, who had joined the attack. Hedman finished his shot from the left circle, again beating Enroth on the short side. The goal came just 5:31 into the third.
For most of the next nine or 10 minutes, the Lightning managed the game (and the lead) reasonably well. The Stars only had two shots during that time, though one of those was a dangerous chance for Jamie Benn in the slot. In the final five minutes or so, however, the Stars brought a lot of pressure. They generated a handful of terrific Grade-A looks, but Vasilevskiy made terrific saves in those closing minutes. He denied Jamie Benn and Spezza on separate point-blank shots. Then, after Hedman was whistled for hooking with 1:17 left and the Stars pulled Enroth for a six-on-four power play, Vasilveskiy made two more great saves on Seguin and Spezza. Brian Boyle netted a shorthanded empty-netter before Fiddler deflected in a shot off his skate in the closing seconds.
Spezza, Seguin and Jamie Benn are talented players and they were dangerous in the offensive zone tonight. But while giving credit to the opposition, the Lightning know they can’t afford to allow three or more goals and expect to win most nights. While they were able to do it in this game against the Stars, they’ll look to hold the Canadiens and Bruins to two or fewer when they visit Montreal and Boston this week.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Killorn’s goal, which tied the game at three in the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. Three assists.
2.Tyler Seguin – Stars. Two goals.
3.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Goal and assist.