Bolts won this one 6-3.
“It was a big two points,” said Anton Stralman.
Yes it was.
When these teams last met, Dallas handed Tampa an overtime loss on the strength of an Antoine Roussel hat trick and an OT goal from Jamie Benn. At that point in February, Tampa was finally trending up, but Dallas was still trending down. Bolts rebounded from this loss to finish the month with 14 out of a possible 20 points; Dallas finished with 8 out of 24.
Tyler Johnson had frank words about the team’s play last time they met that summed up how they managed to lose to the Stars: "Overall, I thought we played a good game. Having a two-goal lead and another one-goal lead, that's unacceptable, but it's all about turnovers. That's how they got their goals. That's how we knew they were going to play coming into it, that they would capitalize on that. They're an offense that scores a lot of goals. Frankly, turnovers killed us."
From October to January, the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning had the same kind of record, totaling 60 points for the Stars and 64 points for Tampa. The teams were both struggling with injuries (as of tonight, Bolts had 249 man-games lost to injuries, but Stars had 311), but beyond that, were equally underachieving.
Then the trade deadline came, and although both the Stars and Bolts made moves, the moves seemed to stir up the team in Tampa while the Stars remained stagnant. In March and April, the Stars have so far earned 15 points, and Tampa has earned 22, the biggest difference between elimination and a bubble team.
It’s that time in the season where, win or lose, we’re all near a reset. What will happen next with Dallas? Both teams have proved that in order to get anywhere, franchise players need to be healthy and produce, and the whole team suffers when they don’t.
During warmups, we were all surprised by a sudden Tyler Johnson and Jason Garrison, who both took the ice. Missing was the recalled-for-a-second Joel Vermin, sitting out the game as a healthy scratch.
Pre-game warmup lines were:
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Vladislav Namestnikov - Yanni Gourde
JT Brown - Gabriel Dumont - Luke Witkowski
Starters were the Palat-Point-Kucherov line, and Hedman-Dotchin pair, and Budaj was in net.
After a messy, tired looking first five minutes, Bolts finally registered their first two shots on net in a scrambling mess in front of Kari Lehtonen. The sides traded chances in what was a far too evenly played period between two tired teams. Shots for the period ended 8-9, Stars, with the teams spending a lot of time playing giveaway-takeaway in the neutral zone.
At the 7:00 mark, Dotchin was nailed along the boards and went off to get examined by the trainer. While he was off the ice, Stars set up a chance that Budaj had to cover. Despite the faceoff taking place in the Bolts’ defensive zone, 30 seconds later, Point’s line forced possession back in front of Lehtonen, taking a shot that Lehtonen covered in turn. On the following faceoff, Johnson’s line was deployed, and managed another solid shot on Lehtonen. This was one of the better few shifts of the period.
The Stars owned the middle minutes of the period. Budaj was forced to cover a puck at the 10:30 mark, but perhaps flirting with danger was good for the Bolts. A minute later, at the 11:27 mark, Sustr and Gourde managed to spring the puck from the Stars in the neutral zone. Gourde, who is on a four-game point streak, managed to find Erne hovering in the offensive zone. Erne was well-defended, but deked past Pateryn and Hamhuis to send it past the handle of Lehtonen’s stick.
As the period wound down, the Stars showed more jump, spending time near Budaj, but Dotchin was especially on the ball, blocking and obstructing enough to keep the goal clear.
The Gourde-Erne-Namestnikov line was trying to find chemistry tonight, and actually showed some coherence in the first few minutes of the second period, with Gourde registering the Bolts’ first shot of the frame on a pass that connected perfectly. Of course, writing this sentence totally foreshadowed Coach Jon Cooper breaking this line up.
At the 1:59 mark, despite the Lightning coming out hard, the Jason Spezza - Esa Lindell - Gemel Smith line managed to find a way past Budaj. Lindell took a hard shot from the point that deflected in off Smith’s leg, evening the score at 1-1.
There was much sorrow in Amalie, with more to follow. At the 4:10 mark, Dan Hamhuis got called for holding. On the ensuing power play, Smith scored — this time shorthanded. Hedman lost a puck battle along the boards, and Smith grabbed the puck and skated in to score five-hole on Budaj. Cooper called for a review, claiming the goal was offside. The referees stared at their 2006-era blackberry devices with squinty eyes, and managed to figure out that the play was in fact offside. Thank God Tampa’s coach is a lawyer?
Once the power play was back underway, things looked dicey, with the Bolts once again making the 30th-ranked penalty kill look fantastic.
Toward the midpoint of the period Stars gained momentum, and perhaps to try for better chemistry, Cooper slid Drouin into Erne and Namestnikov’s line.
Almost immediately after this line was iced, Dallas got their goal back, the same line that stung the Bolts the first time (and second-ish time) — Spezza-Smith-Lindell. Spezza sent the puck over Budaj’s shoulder as he stood screened. This time, there was no chance of a coach’s challenge. Spezza, incidentally, has 55 career points against the Lightning on Ottawa and the Stars.
More line changes happened for reasons.
Another change in lines... Gourde, Killorn and Drouin.— Raw Charge (@RawCharge) April 2, 2017
Erne, Johnson and Namestnikov out together.— Raw Charge (@RawCharge) April 2, 2017
Toward the end of the second, shots mounted 16-12, Stars. With 17 seconds left, after an extended swearing session by Cooper behind the bench, the Bolts finally showed some jump. Taking advantage of extended pressure in the offensive zone, Palat sent the puck to Stralman who had skated deep into the offensive zone. Stralman made an initial shot on Lehtonen, who sent the rebound straight to Coburn. Coburn had a nice undefended angle, and didn’t miss.
The second ended 2-2, with shots 16-14 Stars.
Having a healthy team is totally overrated, right? At the beginning of the third, it was announced that Garrison would not return.
When asked about it later, Cooper indicated that Garrison was “getting tired” and “might have aggravated” the initial injury, so it was time to pull him back out. There is no further update on his condition.
Team officially announces that Jason Garrison suffered a lower body injury and will not return tonight— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) April 3, 2017
Tampa apparently really wanted this game to end in regulation. The first five minutes showed mounting pressure from Tampa, resulting in a goal from Point at the 5:43 mark. The play started along the boards from Palat, who sprang the puck to Dotchin. Dotchin found Point in the slot, and Point buried it on Lehtonen’s (apparently) weak stick-side, for his 14th goal of the season.
At 11:30 in the third, Radek Faksa’s butt wiped out Namestnikov. He fell to the ice, took a moment to get up, and was called for embellishment. Perhaps to make up for a call that was clearly bogus, the Stars were given a penalty. During the 4-on-4, Dallas was called for hooking at 12:12. In the 4-on-3 that followed, Palat sent a pass from Drouin in through Lehtonen’s five-hole, and it was 4-2.
Things got a bit scrappy at the 14 minute mark, with Namestnikov taking exception to Faksa’s butt, I’d imagine.
While I was typing this, Erne scored his second goal of the game on the power play. It was pretty, almost a spin-o-rama, assisted by Namestnikov and Johnson.
Erne with the spin around shot squeaks it through five hole on Lehtonen. No look shot surprised him. Lightning up 5-2.— Raw Charge (@RawCharge) April 3, 2017
Then Gourde got called for slashing and the Stars got a power play. Thankfully there was a three-goal lead? Brett Ritchie managed a goal in the dying seconds of the penalty to help beef up the Stars’ end-of-season power play percentage. Shortly after that, with less than two minutes left, another Stars player batted the puck past Budaj with a distinct higher-than-the-net motion, so the goal was swiftly in review. Would the lead hold?
Nope, the puck was high-sticked into the net — two calls went the Bolts’ way tonight. Did we use up all of our game karma?
Lehtonen was pulled in the last minute of play. The six-on-five was a scary minute of hockey, but the Bolts managed to hold onto the lead. At one point, a puck went past Budaj into the net, but only after a Stars player somehow took Budaj’s helmet off, like a can opener, with his stick.
With two seconds left, Stralman managed to make it a 6-3 game by potting the empty netter.
It was a ridiculously messy game, but thanks to the energy of the kids and two calls going the Bolts’ way, Bolts managed to hold on for the win.