Stanley Cup Final Bizarro Game 3: The Goalie Duel
When a series is tied at one game a piece, the winner of Game 3 wins the series 88% of the time. The fake Stars and fake Lightning clashed in Dallas, and the pageantry was legendary.
Game 2 was a devastating loss to a Dallas team that thought they had a stranglehold on the series. Tampa had stormed back in the third period and the series was now tied at a game a piece. There was an aura of tension around DFW. Everyone knew they had let one get away. Talk radio hosts from all over the area began to question the Stars' "clutch gene", whether they had the mettle to beat this formidable Lightning team. After the Game 2 loss, everyone knew the third game would be a true character test.
The first Stanley Cup Final game played in Dallas since 2000 did not disappoint. The fans, like a rolling thunder, had whipped themselves into a frenzy. Not surprisingly, the home team came out swinging with three shots on goal in the first shift of the game. Tampa was stunned, and it looked like they would be chewed up and spit out. The Triplets couldn't get out of their own zone as Shawn Horcoff, Curtis McKenzie, and Brett Ritchie sealed them in and started the body blows.
Two Lightning players had already made their way to the locker room after only nine minutes of play. The Stars were literally running Tampa out of the building. By this point, Lindy Ruff had stuffed paper towels in his ears. It was good timing, because he might have lost his hearing at the 17:24 mark when Vernon Fiddler drew a power play. As Victor Hedman was booed off the ice, the Dallas power play set up shop. Klingberg worked it down to Jamie Benn on the half wall, and the Stars' Skipper zipped the puck through the crease to Tyler Seguin. In his Kitchen. All alone. He let go of a howler, the crowd audibly gasped. PING. Right on the elbow of the net, Seguin was denied. He looked to the heavens, but he received no reprieve from the hockey gods.
The Stars had outshot the Lightning 19-7, but they couldn't help but feel like they had let pass a great opportunity.
Tampa Bay found their footing and started to grind back into the game. After a scoreless first period that saw the Stars badly out play the Lightning, the tide turned. Tampa Bay tilted the ice and let loose their speed. Zone exits were on the tape to forwards headed north, and the Stars' defense was on their heels. Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn charged through the neutral zone and John Klingberg lost and edge. Alex Goligoski was the only Star back on defense, and he made a diving play to take away an alleyoop to Stamkos at the side of the net.
Kari Lehtonen stood on his head and kept the Lightning from running away with it. The shots were nearly level with the Stars still holding a slight advantage of 26-23. A timely Dallas penalty kill got the fans on their feet again, but it was short lived. Tampa Bay was playing a perfect road game and the fans had been silenced.
The period ended scoreless, and the tension was palpable.
Another churning shift by the Horcoff line got the crowd back into the game. The teams traded chances early in the period, but this night was about the goaltenders. Kari Lehtonen and Ben Bishop had spent the evening doing their best brick wall impersonations, and frustration had set in on both benches. Open nets had been closed at the last moment by a flailing piece of equipment on more than one occasion. The goalies were putting on a show, and the crowd began to honestly wonder if they would ever get to go home.
Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt had drawn the Triplets, and had dueled them admirably throughout the evening. With 1:51 left in the game and score still tied at zero, the Stars had a breakthrough. Cody Eakin wrestled the puck from Tyler Johnson along the boards and in one motion slung it to Roussel. He had split the defense. Hedman, in one last act of sadistic heroism, dove and chopped Roussel to the ice. The mad Frenchman screamed for a penalty shot, and the capacity crowd at American Airlines Center agreed. The boos left the camera shaking. Ralph Strangis exclaimed, "I don't have a good explanation for my radio listeners, it should have gone to center ice."
The Stars had earned a power play for all the marbles, but seemed to remain focused on how the referee had wronged them. Tyler Seguin was still talking to the official as they dropped the puck to Bishop's left. A power play that started slow gathered some steam with 50 seconds left in the game. The second unit came on the ice, and Brett Ritchie set up shop in front of the huge American goaltender. The artillery barrage began, but there was no beating Bishop.
Trevor Daley wound up for a shot with 13 seconds left, and smashed it off of the skate of penalty killer Brenden Morrow. The former Stars' captain lurched after the puck, and Daley was beat. Morrow against Lehtonen. With the game on his stick the oldest member of the Tampa Bay Lightning went cookie jar. The red light went off, and all that could be heard was the shouting of Tampa players. Kari Lehtonen sank to the ice. Morrow refused to celebrate, but not the rest of his team. With 6 seconds left in the game, the Lightning had stolen it. The ripple of this game would surely be felt for years to come.