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St. Louis helps Lightning hang on against Stars

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Tampa Bay Lightning nearly blew a three-goal lead but held on for a 4-2 victory against the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

"Clearly, we were under siege for the second half of that second period, but I thought our goalie stood tall. Guys committed to blocking shots and kept pucks out," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I think that third goal was big for us. We found a way to hold onto that and then I think we kind of burst their bubble when we got that fourth one."

Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis scored early in the game off a deflection and a second goal, his 29th of the season, on a breakaway in the second period. Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat contributed two assists each, and Ben Bishop made 39 saves.

"[Bishop] has been the MVP of this team from the beginning," St. Louis said. "Without [Bishop], I don't know where we are right now."

Tampa Bay took the lead on St. Louis' first goal 1:25 into the game. Eric Brewer passed the puck to St. Louis from the slot and it glanced off the outside of his left thigh over the glove of Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

The Lightning went up 2-0 at 12:09 of the first when Nate Thompson scored his sixth of the season, also off a deflection. Thompson tipped in Hedman's wrist shot from near the Dallas blue line.

"They got a break on the first two," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "One was off the side of St. Louis, and the next shot was about 4 or 5 feet high and probably going wide, but they got a stick on it and deflected it."

St. Louis made it 3-0 at 14:31 of the second period, and Tampa Bay got an insurance goal from defenseman Sami Salo in the third.

"Well, it's a set play we've run for six years and I've never seen it work until tonight and that's the honest truth," Cooper said of Salo's goal, his second of the season. "It's good when some of those go in. That was obviously huge for us because I think it took a little bit of the air out of their balloon."

The Stars outshot the Lightning 18-7 in the second period, but the goal by St. Louis gave the visitors a three-goal lead. Palat intercepted a pass from Ray Whitney in the middle of the slot and quickly flipped the puck to St. Louis, who raced up the right side and beat Lehtonen with a wrist shot from the left circle that went under the goalie's right shoulder.

"I'm just being opportunistic on my chances, getting a few good bounces," St. Louis said of his second straight two-goal game. "I have to play with a lot of energy and I feel like I'm getting some good early bounces and I'm able to capitalize on my opportunities."

Dallas' Antoine Roussel scored at 15:50 of the second period when his tip-in deflected in off the left skate of Tampa Bay's Michael Kostka. The Stars cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 at with 1:49 left when Vernon Fiddler slipped a puck past Bishop on the short side on a wraparound.

Bishop delivered a big save on Fiddler at close range and on Ryan Garbutt from distance early in the third period.

"We needed to fight back, and we did," Ruff said. "We hunkered down, and went to work. When it was 3-2, we had two or three unbelievable opportunities to tie it up. If Fiddler takes another look and just gets it up, it's in the net."

The Lightning gained some breathing room when Salo beat Lehtonen top shelf from the high slot at 7:12 of the third. After Tampa Bay's Tom Pyatt won a faceoff with Cody Eakin near the Dallas blue line, Alex Killorn tapped the puck back to Hedman, who passed it to Salo, who was streaking past the blue line. Salo beat Lehtonen high for his first goals since Oct. 17, a span of 44 games.

"Yeah, it's been a while, but I've had a good feeling the last few weeks, especially in the Olympics I had a lot of chances," Salo said. "It was obviously nice to get one."

Dallas had chances to pull closer with two power plays after the goal but did not. Lehtonen finished with 17 saves.

"For 40 minutes, we were good," Stars defenseman Trevor Daley said. "It was the 20 we weren't good that made the difference. I just think we were flat. Their push was a lot more than ours, and that was the difference in the game."

The Stars played without defenseman Brenden Dillon, who remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Dillon did not practice Friday and missed his first game of the season.

"Guys are going to get hurt," Daley said of Dillon's absence. "We play a contact sport, so we try to minimize that as much as possible."

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