Goals could only be scored at one end of the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday night.
Luckily for the Dallas Stars, that was the end at which they shot twice.
The Stars scored three goals in the first and two in the third while the Tampa BayLightning made it a game with two of their own in the second as Dallas beat the Lightning 5-2 to take over the eighth and final playoff spot by one point.
The Stars couldn't have drawn up a better opening 20 minutes if they'd tried. Jamie Benn opened the scoring and snapped a six-game goalless drought just 40 seconds into the frame when Alex Goligoski found him all by his lonesome on the far post, and he doubled the lead six minutes later with a simple wrist shot through a Vernon Fiddler screen.
A pretty nasty head-pick of an interference by Radko Gudas that nearly took off the head of Antoine Roussel earned the Stars a five-minute power play for a match penalty, but Dallas could neither convert on that nor their two-minute opportunity earlier in the frame. Tyler Seguin made that sting a little less when he took advantage of a botched coverage off a faceoff to make it 3-0 Dallas.
The only blemish in the frame, beyond the face the power play couldn't get anything going, occurred with about 30 seconds left when Roussel was caught slashing Steven Stamkos. The Stars managed to kill it off, but the Bolts used the momentum from that and some poor coverage from the Cody Eakin line on Stamkos to get one back two minutes into the period.
Tampa continued to hold onto the momentum with sustained possession, and they took advantage six minutes later themselves when Colton Sceviour got lazy on his coverage and let point man Andrej Sustr sneak around him on the back door. Lehtonen saved the first shot, but Sustr was still unmarked for the rebound, and he roofed it under the crossbar.
The Bolts continued to press, but the Stars got a break when Ryan Malone cut open Tyler Seguin's chin with a high stick, earning the Stars a four-minute reprieve from the pressure. The first two minutes were a dud, and indeed only an Erik Cole backcheck helped break up a shorthanded breakaway chance for the Bolts. The second two minutes looked better, but very little got through to Bishop.
Ryan Garbutt capped it off with another offensive zone penalty, putting the Bolts back on the power play to end the frame. The Stars were able to kill it off, though, and finally looked more like themselves in the period's waning minutes.
That carried over into the start of the third, and Vernon Fiddler took advantage of a bad turnover behind the net to walk in front and semi-roof one over Bishop to give the Stars a little bit of a cushion 90 seconds into the frame.
Dallas got its three goal lead back with just under 12 left in the period when Cody Eakin stripped the puck at the defensive point, then got a shot on Bishop from a bad angle. Immediate pressure from Ryan Garbutt popped the puck out into the slot where Roussel was waiting with an essentially empty net in front of him.
Tampa had a late power play after the Stars were caught with too many men, but Dallas got through it with only a few anxious moments.
Jamie Benn had a chance for the had trick with the empty net when Seguin tried to get it to him in front, but he couldn't quite pick up the pass. Even so, I'm sure he's not too disappointed given the win.
More thoughts from my sofa
- The Stars are extremely luck the power play didn't need to play a larger role in this one. They were given more than enough opportunities to make this even more of a laugher than it looked in the first 20 minutes but couldn't convert, and they weren't able to take advantage of it when the game got tight in the second and third either. It looked okay at times, particularly the first one, but obviously never came through. That's going to need to improve here down the stretch.
- Kari Lehtonen didn't have much of a chance on either of the goals Tampa scored and saved the Stars bacon several times in the second and third. It was another solid game from the big Finn with 27 saves on 29 attempts, even as he got a little ambitious trying to handle the puck at times.
- Patrik Nemeth bounced back well, being basically invisible in this game which is what you look for out of a rookie, defense-first defenseman. He only played 7:16 because of the huge amount of special teams time in the game.
- On the flip side, they held Goligoski and Trevor Daley's minutes down to a positively reasonable 24:14 and 23:36, respectively.
- Erik Cole was quiet in a little more than 13 minutes with no shots, but he did make the large defensive play to help hamper the shorthanded breakaway. He didn't seem to have his world-class speed quite up to blazing yet, but that's to be expected after seven games off.
- So about that Tyler Seguin kid. Ten goals and 12 assists in the past 15 games as the Stars push for the playoffs is nothing short of dazzling. Jamie Benn is rolling right along at a little more than a point per game in his last nine (five goals, five assists), and both Garbutt and Fiddler are rolling along at a point per game over the past seven and six, respectively.
- The forward coverage lapses in the second that led to both Bolts goals as well as some general running around are concerning. I didn't get a good enough look at the first goal to know if Stamkos was Eakin's check all along or he was trying to bail out an overambitious teammate, but a guy that dangerous should never be so wide open in the slot. Along those same lines, Sceviour must be more aware of his check on the point coming down to the back door. That was a huge blown coverage there.
- The Stars forced the Bolts into some poor coverage of their own, especially in the first. The first Benn goal and the Seguin goal are things the Lightning probably want back, particularly the first Benn goal. All five Lightning players got puck staring and left Jamie freaking Benn sitting by himself wide open on the back door. That's not a great plan even before Goligoski makes the world-class slap-pass.
- Dallas will spend its other game in hand tomorrow against the Florida Panthers in another huge game. They also now own the ROW tiebreaker with Phoenix outright (or at least, effectively as they own the head-to-head tiebreak as well). They are in a good spot that could be a fantastic spot with another win. Three wins on a five game trip is good. Four could make things extremely difficult for the Coyotes.