The NHL season is a roller coaster of emotions. Winning streaks evoke jubilance, while losing streaks harken pessimism. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6-2 victory over the Dallas Stars this evening marked their sixth win over their last seven games and extended their point streak to seven games. As rough as the months of March and April were for the Lightning’s consistency, the past two weeks revealed they’re coming into form at just the right time.
Even with the continued absence of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning continue to dictate the pace of games and overwhelm their opponents. Tonight was no different as Tampa Bay never trailed or lost momentum throughout the game.
The Lightning opened the scoring early as Tyler Johnson wired a wrist shot from the upper slot just 2:14 into the first period.
Great neutral zone pressure by Alex Killorn followed by a quick counter-attack, and a fortunate bounce to Johnson are the key points on this goal.
Dallas did have some chances this period but were largely kept at bay. Until the final minute of the period where the recently returned Tyler Seguin made his presence known.
Erik Cernak gets caught being too aggressive at the blue line, forcing Victor Hedman to swap sides to cut off Joe Pavelski’s angle toward the net. Cernak does an admirable job re-entering the play, but Pavelski’s pass and Seguin’s tip were more than enough for Dallas to even it up before the first intermission.
That didn’t deter the Lightning as they proceeded to outshoot Dallas 9-4 in the second period (22-8 in shot attempts) and extend their lead.
Not exactly a tick-tack-toe goal, but it’s close enough as Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Killorn connect on a beautiful passing play that netted Killorn his 15th goal of the season.
Everyone, welcome to the Brayden Point show. He makes the steal, the move, and the goal all in a matter of seconds and abuses Jake Oettinger’s overaggressive poke check to give Tampa Bay an insurance goal with 14.2 seconds left in the period. Almost like Point has a knack for clutch goals.
Holding a two-goal lead, Tampa Bay noticeably eased off their offensive pressure to clamp down on Dallas’ offense. On the shot clock, it might not appear as so with the Stars outshooting the Lightning 12-7 in the period (19-16 in shot attempts). However, upon further inspection, Dallas didn’t generate nearly enough pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy as Tampa Bay controlled the expected goals battle at 69%.
That said, Dallas did manage to get one more goal.
Sometimes redirections help a goalie; other times, they throw them off. It happens to every goalie in the NHL.
The Lightning didn’t wait long to respond.
He isn’t the second-best defensemen on the team (not even close, he’s the fourth), but Cernak has definitely rounded out his offensive game far better than anyone could’ve anticipated. In previous years, Cernak takes a larger wind-up and releases this puck further back, either at or behind his feet, thereby losing power on his shot in the follow-through. Here, he engages the puck sooner, releasing it in front of his feet and driving his full weight into the shot. The double screen by Jamie Benn and Yanni Gourde absolutely help but make no mistake; this is a wonderful shot by Cernak.
As regulation time wound down, Dallas’s desperation increased. Rick Bowness pulled Oettinger for an extra attacker with a little over three minutes left, but it didn’t end up the way he would’ve liked.
Nice way for Colton to break a 10-game goalless and pointless streak right here. The rookie hadn’t registered a goal or point since April 15 against the Florida Panthers.
Tampa Bay wasn’t done scoring just yet, though.
I would not have been surprised if Dallas would’ve been penalized twice if they had regained possession. Johnson was blatantly tripped twice (at least one was going to be called) in a span of three seconds before his redirected pass eventually made its way to Mikhail Sergachev for the sixth goal of the night. In hindsight, I just find it humorous.
Overall, this was never a game the Lightning were ever in danger of losing. They were outshot by Dallas 22-20, but Tampa Bay out-attempted (52-38), created more scoring chances (29-21), led in high danger chances (10-8), and dominated the expected goals battle (68%).
Dallas was never in this game entirely, and the grind of their condensed schedule clearly impacted their play. The Stars looked exhausted as the game progressed, managing small spurts of energy between long stretches of lethargic play. Given the struggles Dallas has faced this season, it’s not a surprise they look this way. It isn’t an indictment on the players or management; it’s an indictment on the NHL for forcing the team to squeeze an inordinate amount of games into a short time span. They may be professional athletes, but they’re still human beings.
Tampa Bay’s first seed hopes are still alive, but they’re hanging on by a thread. The Lightning needs to win out and hope Carolina doesn’t win more than one of their final three games. It’ll be close, especially with the final two games against another team looking to grab first place in the Florida Panthers. It’s going to be a dogfight to finish the season; the good thing is the Lightning are starting to look like the team that dominated their way to a Stanley Cup last summer.