The road has been rough on the Dallas Stars this season and Sunday's final road game of the season was another rough one. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored four straight goals to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead and went on to defeat the Stars, 6-3, at Amalie Arena.
"We just didn't do a good enough job of keeping the game simple for a long enough time," said Stars forward Jason Spezza. "We were good enough to win the game. They were putting in their chances, and we didn't."
The Stars had three goals waved off in the game, one for offside, one for the puck being batted in with a high stick and another when Tampa Bay goalie Peter Budaj's mask came off during the play. Those were tough breaks. But Stars coach Lindy Ruff was fuming after the game over a couple of calls involving goals by Tampa Bay.
One came late in the second period when Stars forward Gemel Smith was shaken up and taken out of the play on a hit by Vladislav Namestnikov just seconds before Tampa Bay scored to tie the game 2-2.
"Can someone explain the second goal when our guy goes to get the puck, and their guy runs him over, and there is no interference?" Ruff said. "How does their guy not get a penalty for running over Smith."
The other call came in the third period when Radek Faksa was called for tripping Namestnikov, who got an embellishment minor putting the teams at four-on-four. But when Remi Elie took a hooking minor, the Lighting got a 4-on-3 power play, and Ondrej Palat scored just as it was expiring to put the Lightning up 4-2 in the game.
"Can somebody explain to me how Faksa gets a tripping penalty when he has the puck and moves it to the defense?" Ruff said.
As for the three goals that were waved off?
"I think we were involved in a game [this season] where a couple went our way," Ruff said. "Those happen. Haven't looked at them. Pretty quick whistle on the last one."
Spezza, Smith, and Brett Ritchie scored goals, and Esa Lindell had three assists for the Stars (32-36-11). Kari Lehtonen got the start in goal and stopped 19 of 24 shots.
Sunday's loss left the Stars with a 12-24-5 road record for the season, tying the mark for fewest road wins since the team moved to Dallas, a mark set by the 1995-96 team which had an identical 12-24-5 record away from home.
Adam Erne scored two goals, and Ondrej Palat tallied one goal and two assists for the Lightning, who improved to 39-29-10 and pulled to within three points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It comes down to our season," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said was the message heading into the third period with the game tied 2-2. "The discussion in the room was, do you want to give yourself a chance to play past next Sunday? If you don't then play the way we did in the second and if you do play the way we played in the third."
Both teams registered eight shots on goal in the first period, but the Lightning scored the only goal. Erne got past Stars defenseman Dan Hamhuis, drove the net and slipped the puck past Lehtonen to put the Lightning up 1-0 at 11:27 of the first.
The Stars had the better of play in the second period and scored two goals to take a 2-1 lead. Esa Lindell put a shot on net and Smith tipped it past Tampa Bay goaltender Budaj to tie the game at 1-1 at the 1:47 mark.
Smith appeared to put the Stars up 2-1 with a shorthanded goal at the 4:30 mark, but Tampa Bay challenged the play for offside and won, keeping it a 1-1 game.
But the Stars got a 2-1 lead at the 10:57 mark when John Klingberg set up Spezza on the rush and Spezza roofed a shot over Budaj from the right circle.
Tampa Bay tied the game with 17 seconds left in the period. Defenseman Braydon Coburn scored off the rebound of a shot by defenseman Anton Stralman, making it a 2-2 game heading to the third period. The play came just after what Ruff thought should have been an interference call on Namestnikov for taking out Smith.
The Lightning blew the game open in the third, scoring three straight to build a 5-2 lead. After Klingberg and Adam Cracknell combined to turn over the puck in the Dallas end, Jake Dotchin set up Brayden Point, who scored from the slot to put the Lightning up 3-2.
Tampa Bay extended the lead to 4-2 with a power play goal. Just as a four-on-three power play was turning into a five-on-four, Jonathan Drouin made a slick, no-look backhand pass to Palat, who scored from the slot to make it 4-2. Just 70 seconds later, Erne scored his second of the game and Tampa Bay had a 5-2 lead.
The Stars made it interesting. Ritchie scored on the rebound of a Lindell shot with Dallas on the power play to make it a 5-3 game with 3:20 remaining. Then Tyler Seguin appeared to cut the lead to one, bunting the puck into the net with 1:13 remaining, but after a lengthy video review it was determined his stick was above the crossbar, so it was no goal. The Stars put another puck into the net a short time later, but it was waved off because Budaj's mask had come off.
Stralman scored into an empty net with just under two seconds remaining to make it a 6-3 final.
*The Stars went 2-3-0 on their final road trip of the season.
*The Stars outshot the Lightning 26-25. Tampa Bay had a 55-51 edge in shot attempts.
*John Klingberg led the Stars with six shot attempts.
*The Stars were 1-1 on the power play and 1-2 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars rank 30th in the league in road penalty killing at 72.2 percent.
*The Stars won 39 of 60 faceoffs (65 percent). Cody Eakin won 18 of 28 faceoffs (64 percent). Tyler Seguin won 9 of 13 (69 percent).
*Esa Lindell led all players in the game with 27:09 of ice time.
The Stars return to Dallas to close out the season with a three-game homestand, taking on Arizona (Tuesday), Nashville (Thursday), and Colorado (Saturday).
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Devin Shore
Remi Elie - Tyler Seguin - Brett Ritchie
Gemel Smith - Radek Faksa - Jason Spezza
Jason Dickinson - Justin Dowling - Adam Cracknell
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Patrik Nemeth - Julius Honka
Scratched: Stephen Johns
Injured: Jamie Oleksiak (lower body), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (lower body), Curtis McKenzie (eye), Patrick Sharp (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.