Any hope the Lightning had of chasing down Carolina and winning the Central Division came to an end with a 5-2 defeat to Dallas on Friday night at Amalie Arena.
Despite the loss that clinched the Central Division title for the Hurricanes, Tampa Bay heads to Sunrise for the final two games of the regular season still with an opportunity to secure home ice advantage in the First Round against the Panthers. The Bolts are now level on points and games played with their in-state rivals, setting up what should be a fun two-game series at the BB&T Center that begins Saturday.
On Friday, Dallas played like a team fighting for their playoff lives early on and were rewarded with the game-opening goal at 5:50 of the first period. Miro Heiskanen's shot from the point was deflected before being kicked aside by Curtis McElhinney, but the change in direction kept him from being able to control the rebound. Jamie Oleksiak was on hand at the front of the net and swept home the rebound to put the visitors in front.
The Stars doubled their lead just over five minutes into the second period, with Joe Pavelski beating McElhinney on a breakaway. Just as Pavelski stepped out of the box after serving a tripping minor, Roope Hintz was able to find him all alone at the far blue line to set up a goal that made it 2-0.
Blake Coleman got the Bolts back within a goal midway through the second, also converting on a breakaway. Victor Hedman found Coleman cutting through the middle of the neutral zone and he beat Anton Khudobin on his forehand.
Pavelski connected on his second goal of the night 1:54 later to put the Stars back up by two. Again, it was Hintz providing the setup, jamming the puck free from a scrum behind the Lightning net and feeding Pavelski open in the slot for the shot.
Hintz scored a back-breaking goal in the final minute of the second to give Dallas a three-goal lead through 40 minutes. At the offensive blue line, Joel Kiviranta chipped the puck into the middle of the ice for Hintz, who outraced Ryan McDonagh and beat McElhinney in alone.
The Stars stretched the lead to four at the 3:49 mark of the third, with Joel Kiviranta getting to a rebound and jamming the loose puck home in the crease.
Alex Barre-Boulet scored a power play goal midway through the third to cut the deficit to three, but that would be as close as Tampa Bay would get to mounting a comeback.
DAL | 5:50 Jamie Oleksiak (6) - Miro Heiskanen, Tanner Kero
DAL | 5:17 Joe Pavelski (23) - Roope Hintz
TBL | 11:11 Blake Coleman (14) - Victor Hedman, Barclay Goodrow
DAL | 13:05 Joe Pavelski (24) - Roope Hintz
DAL | 19:46 Rooper Hintz (15) - Joel Kiviranta, Joe Pavelski
DAL | 3:49 Joel Kiviranta (5) - Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn
TBL | 8:29 Alex Barre-Boulet (3) - Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn - PPG