After Tuesday’s thrilling overtime win over the Ottawa Senators, the Tampa Bay Lightning welcomed the Dallas Stars to Amalie Arena on Thursday night. The Bolts (17-12-3, 37 pts) and Stars (19-12-4, 42 pts) collided for their first of two meetings this season. Former Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was not in net for this matchup against his old teammates. Instead, Anton Khudobin got his 14th start between the pipes. Thursday also saw the return of Nikita Kucherov to the Lightning lineup. The reigning Hart Trophy winner was benched by head coach Jon Cooper after a costly turnover lead to a breakaway goal for Ottawa on Tuesday night.
Early success for both power play units
The Lightning started out strong with extended offensive zone time in the first few minutes of the game. As a result, Tampa Bay tested Dallas backup goaltender Anton Khudobin early, recording the first 5 shots on goal. But just 3:17 into the game, Tampa Bay went on the penalty kill as Carter Verhaeghe was called for tripping. The Stars wasted no time getting out to an early lead. Alexander Radulov netted his 10th goal of the season as he tipped in a Tyler Seguin shot through the legs of Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The early lead gave Dallas some momentum but it wasn’t long until the Lightning went on the power play themselves. In fact, Tampa Bay was the beneficiary of three power plays in the first period. While the Bolts had a couple of good looks at the net on their first opportunity with the man advantage, they were not able to cash in until the second time around. That’s when Mikhail Sergachev blasted home a one timer off a Tyler Johnson pass to tie the game at 1.
Later in the period, Dallas received a penalty for too many men on the ice. Given the man advantage once again, Tampa Bay seized the opportunity. A perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play by Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov allowed Alex Killorn to tip the puck past Khudobin for his 10th goal of the season. The Lightning finished the period 2/3 on the power play and lead 2-1 going into the locker room.
Bolts stay aggressive in the second period
When the first period came to a close, the Lightning had more than doubled the Stars shot total: 17-8. The team came out of the gates playing an aggressive, determined, and disciplined style of hockey. That intensity continued into the second period and Tampa Bay came out firing. 3:22 into the period, the Lightning extended their lead to 3-1 thanks to Ondrej Palat’s redirection of another Mikhail Sergachev point shot. The goal marked Palat’s 10th of the season and generated another wave of momentum for the Bolts.
The shots kept on coming and Tampa Bay continued their dominance of pressure and zone time. The team continued to play at one of the fastest paces we have seen from them all season. For the most part, stick handling, passing, forechecking, and all other phases of their game were on point and well executed.
Dallas did break through to get one back late in the second period. Radek Faksa picked up his 8th of the season on a wrist shot from the slot through traffic. It was a goal that Vasilevskiy would no doubt want to have back.
The Lightning attack resulted in a 14-5 second period shot advantage. Despite the goals being even in the game’s middle frame, Tampa Bay dominated the period. Nikita Kucherov did have fans holding their breath momentarily, however. With just under a minute to go in the second period, Kucherov lost the puck in the offensive zone in a turnover eerily similar to the one that got him benched on Tuesday. Luckily, the play did not result in a legitimate scoring chance for Dallas as the Lightning defense was able to get back on the play. Kucherov remained in the game this time.
Shot show continues but Khudobin stands tall
Tampa Bay came out firing again in the third period. Scoring chance after scoring came for the Lightning as their time on attack dominance continued. The outstanding play of Anton Khudobin kept the Dallas Stars within striking distance and prevented a possible 6 goal outburst by the Lightning. Or worse.
Khudobin kept the difference at 1 goal with outstanding play in net throughout the game. Finally, his team broke through with 4:18 left in the third period. With the Lightning caught in a slow line change, Jason Dickinson fired a shot that Vasilevskiy got a piece of but could not prevent from trickling through his legs again. The goal tied the game at 3 at a point where Tampa Bay lead in shots by a margin of 45-17. It was also another goal that Vasilevskiy should have saved in a night where he was not at his best.
The Lightning were the better team for the majority of 60 minutes. They were faster, passed better, were more aggressive, and generated far more scoring chances and shots on goal than Dallas. Yet when the clock read all zeroes at the end of the third period, Tampa Bay and Dallas headed into overtime.
Missed chance in OT leads to crushing result
The Stars maintained possession for most of the overtime period had Tampa Bay off balance. However, the Lightning had a tremendous opportunity to end the game with just over 2 minutes to go. Tyler Johnson could not fire home a shot into a wide open net while Khudobin was out of position. The miss sent the puck careening off the boards and out of the zone. Tyler Seguin took possession and converted a wrister from the left circle to put the icing on Dallas’ stolen victory.
It was a game the Tampa Bay Lightning had no business losing. It was a night that they skated better, passed better, forechecked better, and generated more scoring chances than their opponent. A 2 goal lead vanished and a 28 shot advantage was all for nothing. The Lightning were put in a position where they could have only won this game by playing mistake free hockey. They did not.
In this sport, putting the blame on a goaltender is not something you want to do lightly. But on this night, where the effort in front of him was top notch for the most part, Andrei Vasilevskiy let his team down. So many times he’s been the hero, but in this game he was called upon to stop minimal opportunities and simply did not. Dallas cashed in and made the most of what little chances they created tonight.
A team can only go as far as it’s goalie. Vasilevskiy must find consistency and the ability to make crucial saves that the entire hockey world knows he can and should make.
- Anton Khudobin – 45/48 shots saved
- Alexander Radulov – 1 G, 1 A
- Ondrej Palat – 1 G, 1 A
The Lightning travel to Washington to face the Capitals on Saturday night. Puck drop is at 7:00 PM.
Check out our YouTube channel for postgame comments from players and head coach Jon Cooper.
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