Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you
It was a strange afternoon in Tampa Bay for the Dallas Stars, playing some very good hockey for stretches, but a victory would not be in the cards as the hometown Lightning would defend their turf to the tune of a 6-3 victory.
Despite a 2-2 tie, Dallas was the better of the two teams through 40 minutes, but things unraveled quickly in the final 20. The Lightning, fighting for their playoff lives, took control of the play and forced the Stars into some costly mistakes. A couple of unlucky breaks and some bizarre officiating further exacerbated the issue, with seemingly everything in the universe conspiring against the Stars all at once.
Gemel Smith, Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie had the goals for Dallas, while Kari Lehtonen had a better game than his 19 saves on 24 shots would suggest.
Tampa opened the scoring in the first period after winning a puck during a broken play in the neutral zone. Adam Erne picked up a puck in the Stars zone and turned on the jets, going 0-60 around Dan Hamhuis and then side-to-side on Lehtonen as well to slide home the puck.
The Stars tied things up just 1:49 into the second, when Esa Lindell’s point shot deflected off of Smith in heavy traffic and fluttered past Budaj to tie things up 1-1.
Smith appeared to have had his second tally of the game shorthanded, showing fantastic hustle to move the puck down into the Lighting zone with Victor Hedman in close contact. Radek Faksa, coming in to support, chipped the puck through to Smith, who went in alone and beat Budaj five-hole. Upon review, however, it was determined that the play was offside entering the zone, taking away the reward for all that penalty kill hard work.
Dallas would officially make it 2-1 just minutes later, when Spezza corralled a bouncing biscuit inside the offensive zone and ripped a laserbeam top corner. The lead would not last through the period, though, as Coburn benefited from a broken play in the Stars’ end and shoveled in a loose puck with less than a minute to go.
The wheels completely fell off the bus for the Stars in the 3rd period, with the Lightning tilting the ice right from the get-go.
The Stars got caught scrambling in their own end, with John Klingberg and Adam Cracknell making soft passes, the latter of which wound up under control of the Bolts and saw Brayden Point eventually put it home for a 3-2 lead.
A few minutes later Faksa inadvertently caught Vladislav Namestnikov with a clip to the head, but the Tampa Bay forward was issued an undeserved matching minor for embellishment. In what seemed like an attempt to make up for the preceding extra call, the Lightning got away with a couple of holds that likely should have been called before Remi Elie was whistled for hooking on the same shift. Ondrej Palat would convert with the man-advantage to make it 4-2.
Another goal by Erne took the score to 5-2, but the Stars made things interesting in the dying minutes, with Ritchie cleaning up a rebound in the crease to get Dallas within two. The Stars would actually put the puck in the net a couple more times before the final buzzer, the first on a Tyler Seguin bunt and the second on a dunk play in front of the net. Unfortunately for the Stars, the first goal was waived off due to a high stick, and the other was whistled dead when the initial shot dislodged the mask of Budaj, causing the ref to blow the play dead. The Lightning iced the game with an empty netter with a second to go.
The road was not particularly kind to the Stars this season, and the team can now bid farewell to it until next fall, as they’ll close out the year with a final home stand.