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Dallas Stars Capitalize on Power Play to Defuse Lightning, 5-3

Dallas was outshot at even strength 32-17 and outchanced 38-10, but the important numbers are the ones on the scoreboard, and Kari Lehtonen and the power play ensured that Dallas got the better of those as the Stars held off Tampa 5-3.

Curtis McKenzie was lost to a lower-body injury after an ugly (and seemingly retaliatory) hit from Nikita Nesterov along the boards after a Jamie Benn hit on Victor Hedman took the big Lightning defenseman out of the game. Dallas would tally the game-winning goal on the power play (after an earlier one from a beautiful Spezza-Benn combination), and Kari Lehtonen put on a show down the stretch as Dallas held off the reining Eastern Conference champions to walk out of Tampa Bay with a hard-earned victory.

1st Period

Things started badly and then got badly-er, as the Lightning possessed the puck in the Dallas zone nearly incessantly for the first two minutes of the game, until John Klingberg made an ill-fated decision to reverse the puck behind the net right to Jonathan Drouin, who found Steven Stamkos in the low slot for a can’t-miss one-timer that he put past Kari Lehtonen.

To the Stars’ credit, they appeared to wake up after that attempt, beginning to skate with Tampa and even going so far as to record a couple of shots on net. Their cautious aggression would eventually be rewarded when Tampa turned over the puck at their blue line to Seguin, who passed it to Jamie Benn for a drop to a pinching Jokipakka, who wound up for a slapshot. Bishop made the save, but the puck bounced right to a streaking Seguin, bouncing off his skate before finding its way (legally) into the net to tie the score with his first tally of the year. After all Seguin’s quality shots this season, the universe was clearly asserting its dominance over hockey by ensuring that Seguin’s first goal came in one of the uglier possible ways.

Kari Lehtonen reminded everyone that it is a new season just inside the ten-minute mark as the Lightning streaked in on a two-on-two. Onderj Palat fed it to Tyler Johnson, whom Klingberg had to foul in order to prevent the easy goal. The puck ended up coming in on Kari nonetheless, and only managed to get the puck with the end of his pad as Klingberg and Johnson tumbled in on him simultaneously. It was one of those pucks that just might have gone in last year.

The Stars did well on the resulting penalty kill, which is a fun sentence to type for once this year, led by a great block of a Stamkos shot by Jordie Benn. Shortly after the penalty’s expiration, Jason Spezza would rush in on a two-on-one, but his dish to Patrick Sharp was unsuccessful as a result of hold by Vladislav Namestnikov, putting Dallas on the job for the first time of the night.

Jason Spezza would get his assist after all. After one of his (many) gorgeous zone entries, Spezza magically put the puck on Benn’s tape at the back door of the crease as he backed into the boards in the corner. It was one of those assists that makes you say “Wow” really loudly.

The Stars kept the pressure on when Vernon Fiddler broke into the zone on his backhand, but upon realizing that Ben Bishop actually does cover the entire net, was forced to whip a backhand wide. Cody Eakin was struck by a similar realization later in the period when he rushed in on Bishop, obligingly trying to pass on a 2-on-1 rather that fruitlessly put the puck on net. I mean, I might still be tempted to shoot in those situations, but I can only assume that Bishop really does make the net disappear.

Antoine Roussel put his mark on the game late in the first, putting Stamkos into the boards with a cross check that was about 30% as lethal as McDavid’s from the other night, but, unfortunately, 100% more penalized. On their second power play of the period, Travis Moen might have been the star of the first minute of the ensuing kill, as the Lightning barely even entered Dallas ice during that portion. Part of the issue for Tampa appeared to be a refusal to dump the puck in, leading to various and consistent Dallas clears. The period would end with a couple of glorious “almosts” for Dallas, as both Spezza and Hemsky had quality shots defused after Janmark rushed into the Tampa zone off a turnover in the neutral zone.

It was a fast period that started out with Dallas looking outmatched and ended with Tampa looking stumped as to how to generate shots in the offensive zone. Not a bad feat for the Dallas defense.

2nd Period

The Stars had the chances early in the second, and Ales Hemsky tried a repeat of his “shoot-through-the-defenseman’s-legs” shot on Bishop earlier, but hey, turns out Bishop’s huge.

Klingberg had trouble defending another one-on-one later, losing his stick while defending Nikita Kucherov. Unfortunately, the Stars couldn’t clear the zone to get back to five-stick-town, but Kari came up big again, stopping Kucherov who finally did get his shot from, again, the slot.

Despite having the puck for most of the first seven minutes, the Lightning got the second of the two great chances when a Hemsky turnover in the offensive zone turned into a 2-on-1 for Tampa. Goligoski went down to block the pass to Stamkos, and Jonathan Drouin was forced to shoot. Kari Lehtonen was forced to make the save, and that is exactly what he did, flashing a nice blocker on the short-side attempt.

Dallas continued to give Tampa space in their zone, but Kari maintained the status quo (for this season), flashing his pad and standing strong as the Stars continued their passive play–right up until Seviour got into the high zone and fed a streaking Janmark, who beautifully waited until the last second to feed Cody Eakin on the doorstep for the Stars’ third goal.

Kari Lehtonen was called upon more and more as the second wore on, but Sassy Kari returned with flourish. From the glove to the shoulders, he neutralized a good four or five prime chances, and the game could easily have been tied in the blink of an eye if not for his heroics. It was a classic “Kari be stoppin’ everything” sequence.

Things got ugly late in the second when Victor Hedman had to be assisted off the ice with 4:33 remaining after Jamie Benn laid a hit on him along the boards. Hedman’s head appeared to whip back into the glass, though the hit was a clean one into the upper body that Hedman appeared not to be expecting. The Lightning weren’t pleased with the hit, legal though it was, and Nesterov proceeded to exact revenge on Curtis McKenzie. with a gruesome hit on McKenzie from behind, putting him face-first into the boards by the penalty boxes. McKenzie appeared to be in severe pain, favoring a leg on the way off. Nesterov was assessed a five-minute major for hitting from behind and was tossed from the game. McKenzie was officially stated to have suffered a lower body injury from which he did not return. Hedman went to the locker room, and he would not return to the game.

Dallas nearly gave up a shorthanded goal on a partial breakaway surrendered early in the major, but Jason Demers would cash in from a point shot past a screened Bishop, putting the Stars up 4-1 after going down a young forward. Dallas almost got another one after a puck trickled in behind Bishop, but the following frenzy failed to put it in, and despite some good looks, the second period would end with the same three-goal lead for Dallas.

3rd Period

The final frame began with the Stars on the power play, but they never managed to get anything going, unless you count Kari Lehtonen’s coming up past the circles to clear a potential breakaway. Kari would then be asked to stop an actual breakaway, but Tyler Johnson was stymied once again because Kari Lehtonen said so. Oduya would put Sceviour in a tough spot early on with a buddy pass that was instantly taken away, but the Stars’ team defense continued standing strong as the team bowed up under the Lightning’s desperate pressure. The post also bowed up under literal pressure from the puck off a shot from Colburn off a break, proving that Kari’s whispering skills were back along with his more conventional ones.

Tampa Bay finally rediscovered the back of the net after a strong cycle by Dallas, as the Stars all backed off Namestnikov as he entered the zone and shot a puck off the top of a sprawled Oduya, and the deflected pill found its way through Kari.

The Expected Meltdown would take place shortly after Tampa’s second goal, as the Stars failed to clear from the boards, eventually giving up a slot shot to the Lightning captain. Stamkos ripped the puck past Kari far side, and Lindy Ruff would call his timeout in order to remind his team that they were in fact still winning the hockey game 4-3 regardless of what scoring chance differentials would suggest.

If coaches could get assists, Lindy Ruff might have earned one; after the timeout, Jason Spezza would backhand a puck in through Hemsky, and Bishop somehow let the puck sneak through to put the Stars back up by two. It was nice to see the other team’s goaltender give up a bad goal to kill momentum. John Klingberg’s last-year instincts almost took over right afterwards when he coughed up the puck to Callahan behind the net, but Kari managed to snag the puck before Callahan could cash in the rebound.

Kari Lehtonen was the Stars’ most composed player as the period neared its end, stopping shots both in tight and from the point. He had a particularly nice save and hold from distance to stop play after an extended stretch of zone play by Tampa, allowing Dallas to reset and put fresh troops on the ice.

Tampa would pull Bishop with well over two minutes remaining, but Colton Sceviour missed the empty net from distance, and Anton Stralman made a nice save on Tyler Seguin to keep the game alive. Patrick Sharp would complete the tripartite facepalm sequence with his own miss from the red line, but it wouldn’t matter as the game ended without another tally by either side.

Talking Points