Obviously, the big storyline from this night was Ben Bishop's return to Tampa. The video tribute that played during the first period hit all the right notes and gave the fans an opportunity to express their appreciation to Ben.
As for the game, it was a lot closer than the 6-1 final. The Stars were determined to play a physical game against the Lightning, a strategy that resulted in numerous post-whistle scrums and a first period fight between Vladdy Namestnikov and Dan Hamhuis. Beyond the physical tone that was set in the first, it was a strong overall period for the Lightning. Thanks to an excellent forecheck, they had most of the puck possession. When Dallas did move the puck up ice, the Bolts didn't give the Stars much room in the Lightning's defensive zone. The Stars' best scoring chance in the first came directly off an offensive zone faceoff win - Andrei Vasilevskiy made a terrific save on Tyler Seguin. At the other end, Bishop was a little busier. He made 13 saves in the opening frame, including saves on a couple of Grade-A Lightning chances. The period ended with the game still scoreless.
It didn't stay that way for long in the second. Carrying over a power play from the closing seconds of the first, the Lightning finally beat Bishop. Off a one-timer from the left circle, Steven Stamkos ripped a shot into the top corner. In all, the Lightning would score three times in the middle stanza, but it was a period in which they didn't have nearly the same amount of puck possession as in the first. Unlike the first period, the Stars were very aggressive on their forecheck and created some turnovers in the Lightning's end. Dallas also received three consecutive power play chances in the frame. So those were the reasons for Dallas' territorial advantage in the second. But that edge in puck possession ultimately didn't help the Stars. The Lightning did a very good job of defending without the puck, so the Stars didn't generate a large number of chances. They did create some, but with the exception of a Radek Faksa breakaway goal, Vasilevskiy took care of the rest.
Then there was the Lightning's effort on those three Dallas power plays. The Stars entered the game with the top ranked power play percentage in the league. But the Lightning went 3-3 on the PK, which included a 25-second two-man disadvantage, and scored a shorthanded goal. The Bolts did a good job of clearing pucks when they had a chance and then pressuring the Stars up ice. That shorthanded pressure led to Brayden Point's steal and wraparound goal. When the Stars did set up the offensive zone, the Lightning held their PK structure well. Dan Girardi provided an important block during the five-on-three kill.
So statistically, the second period was a little strange. The Stars outshot the Lightning, 15-8, and had a 25-13 shot attempt advantage. But the Lightning outscored Dallas, 3-1. Things leveled off in the third, particularly after Stamkos and Jake Dotchin added to the lead in the opening 8:18. Those goals put the game out of reach.
So it's true that the Lightning didn't dominate play for long stretches like they did in all three games on the California trip. They had a tough night in the faceoff circle (the Stars won 68% of draws) and, as mentioned earlier, the Lightning didn't have much puck possession in the middle part of the game. But they defended hard and physically without the puck. Their penalty kill was superb. Their forecheck was strong. And their explosive offense produced six goals on 15 shots in the final 40 minutes.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Point's shorthanded goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Steven Stamkos - Lightning. Two goals and two assists.
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Goal and two assists.
- Mikhail Sergachev - Lightning. Goal and assist.