It’s hard to decide what provided more relief in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars - the fact that two of the goals came on the power play, or that they scored three goals in one period.
With the power play stagnant over the last few games, Coach Cooper tweaked the first unit a bit, moving Mikhail Sergachev off of it and pushing Ondrej Palat back to a point position. Those changes helped, but so did having Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning’s best passer set up both power play goals (and with two points set a franchise record for most points, 28, by a Lightning player in a post season).
Coach Cooper also made a couple of roster moves, but not THE CHANGE fans were hoping for. He went back to a 12-forward, 6-defenseman line-up with Carter Verhaeghe seeing a little bit of playing time on the fourth line. Jan Rutta made his first appearance in the Stanley Cup with Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn sitting out the game.
The Lightning wanted to come out, get pucks behind the Dallas defenders and attack from there. They...didn’t really do that. They weren’t quite as sloppy as they were in the first game, but the Stars’ forecheck was still giving them issues getting the puck out of their zone cleanly.
The forecheck and the physical play from Dallas tilted the ice at even strength a little early. Nikita Kucherov had a rough first six minutes, getting blindsided in the defensive zone on a hit by Jamie Benn, followed soon after by Mattias Janmark whacking him on the shoulder and helmet with his stick. The Benn hit wasn’t called, but the Janmark love-tap was.
Nothing happened on the power play other than a few big shots by Tyler Johnson - one tipped wide by Yanni Gourde and the other blocked by Miro Heiskanen. A few minutes after the power play, Kucherov went down to block a pass and slid painfully into the end boards. He would head down into the tunnel for a few minutes.
He was back in time for the next two power play opportunities, and he made the Stars pay. After Joe Pavelski dropped Anthony Cirelli at the blue line to draw a penalty, the first unit finally connected, all be it with a little help. They worked the puck around to Kucherov at the right circle and he made the quick pass to Brayden Point in the slot. The wrister caught the stick of Esa Lindell and changed course. Anton Khudobin was already sliding to his right and the puck ended up in the top corner behind them.
A few minutes later the Stars picked up another penalty away from the puck and the Lightning were back at work. Buoyed by their early goal, the Bolts first unit moved the puck around with alacrity and purpose, keeping the Stars penalty killers on the move. Kucherov slid a pass across the ice to a wide open Ondrej Palat who buried the shot.
With the power play giving them an early lead, the Lightning evened the play at 5v5, keeping the puck in the Dallas zone and causing some turnovers. A point shot from Kevin Shattenkirk hit a player in front and deflected past Khudobin and into the back of the net.
A late penalty by Ondrej Palat (also away from the play) slowed the momentum a little, but the Lightning were able to get to the intermission without too much of an issue.
With both team’s power play units occasionally undergoing some unproductive streaks prior to this game, the two teams apparently agreed to play as much of the second period at 5-on-4 as possible. Nine total penalties were called during the 20-minute middle frame with only 10 minutes being played at 5-on-5.
The Lightning had the first chance after Blake Comeau buried Alex Killorn with a hit that was just a touch too late. Unfortunately, nothing came of the early power play. It ended early when Kucherov tripped up a Star two-hundred feet away from the Lightning net. Dallas couldn’t really generate much pressure.
Things went so well on the penalty kill that the Lightning tried it out again as Yanni Gourde picked up a cross-check on Jamie Oleksiak after the big defenseman drove Blake Coleman into the boards. Another clean kill for the Lightning and play settled down a bit.
Tampa Bay’s carelessness finally caught up to them as Ondrej Palat was called for slashing. The Stars won the face-off and John Klingberg wired a shot from the top of the offensive zone. Ryan McDonagh had pretty good positioning on Joe Pavelski, but the veteran somehow got his stick on the puck and deflected it past Vasilevskiy.
With about three minutes left in the period things got a little weird. Ryan McDonagh laid out Blake Comeau with a clean open-ice hit. Somehow that sprung Benn on a breakaway. Vasilevskiy made the save. The puck worked it’s way to the top of the zone where Pat Maroon blocked a shot and went in on his own breakaway. Khudobin stopped it and went down when Maroon ran into him.
Maroon was called for goaltender interference, then Corey Perry did Corey Perry things and Victor Hedman and Cedric Paquette weren’t having any of it. After a little bit of a scrum and a pile of bodies on the ice Hedman and Paquette joined Maroon in the box while Klingberg and Perry were also penalized. Another power play for the Stars. They were aggressive with their shots, but Vasilevskiy made several key saves.
The Stars built up a big lead on the shot clock due to their power plays, but the Lightning held their own at even strength. The Point line was really good (cooking at a 70% CF at even strength through two periods), and Dallas is having problems keeping that line out of their zone.
The Stars were a little shorthanded as Blake Comeau didn’t come out for the period and was declared “unfit” for the rest of the game. The Lightning almost established a three-goal lead early as Ondrej Palat was alone in front and Hedman found him with a pass. Khudobin made a nice save.
Chances were coming for the Lightning, but they couldn’t beat the Stars’ netminder. Brayden Point came into the zone with speed but snapped his shot high. Dallas controlled the puck and broke the other way. A bit of a sloppy line-change by the Bolts allowed them to enter the zone. Klingberg slid a pass in front of the net that found Janmark’s stick and he deflected it past Vasilevskiy. A three goal lead had dwindled to just one.
Tampa Bay was really only getting pressure from the Point line as Dallas was able to match the other lines fairly evenly. It looked like Lightning had retaken the two-goal lead when a Mikhail Sergachev shot made it’s through a screen and past Khudobin. Unfortunately, Dallas was paying attention to the entry and they challenged it’s validity. The replay maching agreed with them and the Lightning were ruled offside and Sergachev’s first career NHL goal evaporated into the ether.
Clearly offside pic.twitter.com/jSsVsLHTj8— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 22, 2020
While the goal didn’t count, it seemed to spark the Lightning a little bit and they played better as a unit. In fact, they started to pile up the shots and drive possession, forcing Dallas back into their zone.
Time became the Stars enemy and as they pressed, the Lightning countered. Khudobin kept them in the game until he was lifted with a minute to play. Vasilevskiy had to make a big save early in the 6-on-5, but that was the only real pressure at the end. Barclay Goodrow had a chance to seal the game but his empty-net attempt sailed just wide of the net.
One last face-off win for the Stars with four seconds left put the puck on Heiskanen’s stick, but he whiffed on it and it slid harmlessly along the ice and was easily cleared.
With the series even, the teams head back to the ice on Wednesday.