The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Thursday’s game against the Dallas Stars on a five-game win streak after beating them 2-1 on Tuesday night. Andrei Vasilevskiy was personally on a twelve-game win streak, a franchise record. He was just two games away from tying the NHL record of 14 games. Unfortunately, the Lightning showed some fatigue from the grueling schedule they’ve been on and could not keep up with the Stars.
One bit of news came down from the team right as warm ups started; defenseman Erik Cernak was to be out of the game with a lower body injury. Cernak blocked a shot during Tuesday night’s game and appeared to be laboring afterwards. He was able to finish the game, but was a healthy scratch on Thursday.
Late Wednesday night, the Lightning made a salary cap move by trading Alex Volkov to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a low level prospect and a seventh round pick. We found out why with the news that Cernak would not be able to play. With Ryan McDonagh out, the Lightning needed to bring two defensemen onto the roster, Andreas Borgman and Luke Schenn. The Lightning however did not have enough cap space to add both players if Volkov was on the roster.
The collective bargaining agreement has an exemption that allows a team to exceed the salary cap in the event of injury. However, that exemption requires the team to play down a player for one game before receiving that exemption. Before the trade of Volkov, that meant the Lightning would either need to waive Volkov and probably lose him for nothing, or play with twelve forwards and five defensemen.
Instead of playing with five defensemen, the team traded Volkov to make the necessary cap space and played this game with Schenn and Borgman to have six defenseman, and played with just 11 forwards. If Cernak and McDonagh are still unable to play on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, then the Lightning will be able to add Ross Colton to the roster and exceed the salary cap.
The first period started off rather slowly for the Lightning. It was mostly back and forth for most of it, but Dallas pushed back in the last few minutes of the period and took a lead in puck possession. The Lightning also had trouble with hitting the net, missing on five of their nine unblocked shot attempts.
What really stood out though was how dangerous Dallas was in the first period with their shots. Dallas accumulated 0.96 xGF on 14 unblocked shots for a shot danger of 0.070. The NHL average is around 0.056. Vasilevskiy seemed to be up to the task though and came up with some really good saves to keep the game scoreless in the first period.
The Lightning opened up the scoring 2:46 into the second period. After a good forecheck, Ondrej Palat moved the puck up the boards to Cal Foote at the point. Foote snapped off a wrist shot that was knocked down by Jake Oettinger. Gourde found the handle on the puck and snapped it into the wide open net to put the Lightning up 1-0. The goal was assisted by Foote and Palat and was Foote’s first career NHL assist.
Just over three minutes later, Alex Killorn added another goal on a very similar situation. Mikhail Sergachev took a shot from the center point that was once again knocked down by Oettinger. Killorn was able to get away from the defense, pick up the puck, and put it up and over Oettinger to put the Lightning up 2-0. The goal was assisted by Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli.
Up to that point, the Dallas Stars had been the stronger team in the second period, but the Lightning took advantage of a couple of rebounds. The Stars got the first power play of the night when Luke Schenn was called for holding. The Lightning were able to make short work of the penalty kill.
Halfway through the period, Miro Heiskanen broke the shutout with a great move. Mikhail Sergachev moved to try and challenge Blake Comeau with the puck in the neutral zone. Borgman didn’t realize what Sergachev was doing in time and didn’t move back across to cover for Sergachev cutting across the ice. Heiskanen was able to get in behind him with the puck, faked a shot, then went to the backhand and put it into the top corner to cut the Lightning’s lead to 2-1.
It looked like Ondrej Palat was going to get that one back right afterwards as he had a play that looked very similar to the Gourde and Killorn goals. Steven Stamkos was able to cut off a clearing pass at the top of the zone. He put the puck to the front of the net to Palat. Palat turned and took the shot. Oettinger reached out with the stick to stop the shot.
As the second period was winding down, it was clear that the Lightning were feeling tired. They were getting outworked and were not moving their feet very well. Dallas had put a hurting on the Lightning, but Vasilevskiy stood tall and kept the Lightning in the game. They finally unraveled in the last 90 seconds of the period.
Anthony Cirelli took a high-sticking penalty. Seven seconds into the power play, Joe Pavelski from a bad angle at the side of the net shot the puck up into the corner past Vasilevskiy’s ear to tie the game up at 2-2.
It didn’t end there though. In the waning seconds of the period, Tyler Johnson failed to clear the puck. The Lightning scrambled to defend, but were unable to get to the puck. Pavelski passed across the slot to Jason Robertson who put it top shelf over Vasilevskiy to give the Stars a 3-2 lead with 16 seconds left in the second period.
The third period was looking better for the Lightning, but so was Oettinger. The Lightning were getting some chances, but just not getting it past Oettinger. They continued to press, as well as killing off a fairly dubious too many men call. With about five minutes to go in the period, Jan Rutta shot the puck on net from the point. The puck was loose and a scramble ensued around the crease. The puck squirted loose to Ondrej Palat who found a lane to put it through the bodies to tie the game up at 3-3. Palat’s goal was assisted by Gourde and Rutta.
From there, it was looking like the Lightning were going to make it to overtime, claim a point, and have a chance at getting the second point. Until Roope Hintz happened. A pass up from the Dallas defensive zone found its way to Pavelski. He had Hintz breaking to the blue line and he put it to him. The puck was tipped by Hedman, but Hintz was able to kick it forward with his skates and split his way between Hedman and Rutta to go in all alone on Vasilevskiy. Coming in full speed, he shot the puck blocker side and Vasilevskiy was unable to get a pad on the shot putting Dallas up 4-3 with 1:21 left on the clock.
The Lightning tried to pull Vasilevskiy for the extra attacker. They never got themselves set up and didn’t seriously contend for a tying goal with the extra skater on the ice and 4-3 was the final score in the game.