The Lightning entered the decisive second period tied 2-2 with the Stars before unleashing an offensive assault Dallas couldn’t recover from.
Anton Stralman, making his first appearance in a Lightning jersey, scored his second goal of the night 4:36 into the second period to put the Bolts (2-1-0) ahead for good. The Swedish defender sent a shot toward goal that found its way through a scrum in front of the net and past Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen for a 3-2 Tampa Bay lead.
“It’s always fun to score goals,” Stralman said. “I don’t see a whole bunch of them, so it’s always nice. But, I don’t put a kind of thought to that. It’s more about getting into the rhythm.”
Nikita Kucherov gave the Lightning a two-score advantage with his second goal of the preseason approximately four minutes after Stralman lit the lamp. Steven Stamkos found Kucherov open on the left wing, and Kucherov blasted a slapshot, beating Lehtonen stick side. Ryan Callahan was also credited with an assist.
Stamkos, skating for the first time during the 2014-15 preseason, said his leg felt better as the game progressed.
“I think mentally to get into a game, take some hits, give some hits, face offs, little things like that that are going to put pressure on the leg, it felt good and responded well,” he said.
Matthew Corrente capped the Lightning’s explosive second period scoring. After serving a two-minute penalty for slashing, Brian Boyle spotted Corrente exiting the box and threaded a pass to the rookie defenseman. On a breakaway, Corrente took his time and beat Lehtonen clean with a wrist shot for a 5-2 Lightning lead going into the third.
“I was so tired from killing before that, I wasn’t really thinking about much to be honest,” Boyle joked.
Stralman scored the game’s opening goal, the first time this preseason the Bolts have opened with a lead. Brett Connolly dumped the puck behind the Dallas goal to Boyle, who fended off two Stars to break free. Boyle spotted Stralman streaking toward goal, fired a pass and Stralman sent a wrist shot past Lehtonen.
“Good for Anton,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I know it’s the preseason, but I think he only had one goal all year and he gets two tonight…I thought that pair of he and Victor [Hedman] were really solid. They were involved all over the ice.”
Dallas (2-1-0) leveled the score 1-1 on Nicolas Blanchard’s wrist shot 11:36 into the first period and took the lead four-and-a-half minutes later when Brendan Ranford tipped in a pass from Colton Sceviour on the back post past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.
The Lightning answered 29 seconds after Dallas took the lead, Cody Kunyk wristed a shot toward goal that squirted underneath Lehtonen to tie the game 2-2. Kunyk was set up on the goal by Victor Hedman and Henri Ikonen.
Bishop, making his first appearance of the preseason, gave way to Evgeni Nabokov midway through the second period having stopped 11 of 13 shots on goal. Nabokov gave up one goal and saved eight shots in a game and a half.
“What I really liked is (Bishop) had confidence playing the puck, which he’s always had in his career, but with the injury, that was not a strength of his down the stretch last year,” Cooper said. “But he was jumping out right away trying to play pucks, which was great. I thought he played well.”
Callahan added the final tally for the Lightning, stealing a pass near the Dallas net and backhanding a shot past Stars backup goalie Jussi Rynnas in the third period.
Callahan was flying over the ice all evening, deliver jarring hits and creating countless scoring opportunities.
“That’s what you want, guys like that,” Cooper said. “There’s definitely not an on-off switch for Callahan. He’s just on.”
Jason Spezza cut the lead to 6-3 with 11 minutes remaining, but Nabokov shut down Dallas the rest of the way.
“(Nabokov) was great,” Cooper said. “He was confident in there and made a couple really good saves off the rush.”
Callahan, Stralman and Boyle, all New York Rangers teammates last season before Callahan’s March trade to the Lightning, were named the game’s three stars after recording two points each.
“We’re here now, we’re Tampa Bay Lightning now,” Boyle said. “We’re proud and excited to be that. I’m fortunate for that, and it was a lot of fun tonight.”
The trio took some good-natured ribbing from their teammates and Cooper postgame.
“I kind of made a joke on the side, when they announced the three stars, they thought we were at Madison Square Garden,” Cooper said.
The Lightning killed all six Dallas power plays and are 16-of-16 on the penalty kill to start the preseason.
“The troubling thing for us is, we’ve played three exhibition games and taken 16 penalties, 16 minors,” Cooper said. “So, we have to fix that a little bit. But, we’ve killed them all off, which is a really good sign.”
Tampa Bay completes the home-and-home series with the Stars Tuesday, September 30, at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. The Lightning have three preseason games remaining before opening the season Thursday, October 9, at Amalie Arena against the Florida Panthers.