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Lightning drop final home game, 5-2, as Dallas keeps their playoff hopes alive

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That could have gone better.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“We didn’t play very well.”

Coach Cooper summed things up pretty well in his post-game press conference following the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday night. There wasn’t much positive to pull from the night’s action as the Bolts were down early and never caught up to the flow of the game.

After ripping off a 7-game point streak where the Lightning showed signs of being the team that rampaged their way to the Stanley Cup last season, they fell back into the bad habits that plagued them in March and early April. Dallas was able to bottle them up in their own zone and catch them in transition while Tampa Bay struggled to get the puck past the Stars team and establish a forecheck.

There’s no sense in dwelling on the details of how the Lightning played one of their worst games of the season. Feel free to pick and choose from previous recaps during the funk they were in prior to the last two weeks and you’ll get a nice idea of how things went. Perhaps the most disheartening part of the loss was the ability of Dallas to get in front of the net.

Look at all that color in and around the Lightning crease. That’s not great, and it’s something that the Bolts had been pretty good at preventing over their previous few games. Hopefully, this is just a one off, and they bounce back to their recent stretch of excellent play.

While they likely won’t admit it, there is a good chance that Dallas caught them looking ahead to the two-game series against the Florida Panthers that starts on Saturday. With the loss, the Bolts aren’t going to be able to catch Carolina for first place in the division. Nor can the Predators or Stars catch the Florida teams for third place. The Lightning and Panthers are tied in points heading into their two games and it will determine who gets home ice in the first round. Basically, the first round two-three match-up begins on Saturday. That should be fun.

Couple that with a Dallas team that is fighting for the final spot in the Central Division, they are now two points behind Nashville with both teams having two games left. A loss would have all but eliminated them from making the playoffs so you can understand why they might have a little more jump to their game.

Curtis McElhinney was in net for the Bolts (possibly for the final time) and dropped his sixth game of the season while making 26 saves on 31 shots. After the game the same comment was dropped that has happened in most of his starts this season, “we left Mac out to dry”. Granted, the often leave Andrei Vasilevskiy out to dry, but he has bailed them out time-after-time. Another reason he should have some MVP consideration.

Blake Coleman and Alex Barre-Boulet scored for the Lightning while Jan Rutta returned and played 15:09 in his appearance in 18 games. He should probably play in at least one of the final two games as the Bolts have their full defensive corps for the first time this year. His health allows Coach Cooper to swap him out with Luke Schenn depending on match-ups or to roll with an 11/7 line-up if he chooses.

Highlights:

Blake Coleman (Victor Hedman, Barclay Goodrow) 2-1 Dallas

Alex Barre-Boulet (Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn) Power Play Goal 5-2 Dallas

Lowlights:

Jamie Oleksiak (Miro Heiskanen, Tanner Kero) 1-0 Dallas

Joe Pavelski (Roope Hintz) 2-0 Dallas

Joe Pavelski (Roope Hintz) 3-1 Dallas

Roope Hintz (Joel Kiviranta, Joe Pavelski) 4-1 Dallas

Joel Kiviranta (Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn) 5-1 Dallas