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Lightning pile on the goals in Valentine’s Day massacre of Stars

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Masut, Senior Staff Photographer

For those who decided to skip out on the typical Valentine’s Day routine of dinner, chocolate, and flowers with their significant other and watch the Tampa Bay Lightning instead, they were in for quite the treat. If they were a Lightning fan, that is. On the other side, if your allegiance lied with the Dallas Stars, Thursday’s contest at Amalie Arena probably felt like a bad date that would never end.

The Lightning (43-11-4, 90 points) poured it on early and often, tallying four first period goals en route to a 6-0 Valentine’s Day rout of the Stars (29-23-5), 63 points), Tampa Bay’s fourth straight victory. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 32 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season and second straight against Dallas. The clean sheet was also the 17th of Vasilevskiy’s career, tying Ben Bishop for the most in franchise history.

While Vasilevskiy’s saves were important in helping the Lightning preserve the victory, it was the big names who really put on a show. With a goal and three assists, Nikita Kucherov extended his league-leading point total to 92. He now has 11 points in three games, a scintillating pace that has stretched his lead in the Art Ross Trophy race. Steven Stamkos scored a pair of power play goals and tacked on an assist. Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point finished the night with two assists each, while Alex Killorn, Mikhail Sergachev, and Tyler Johnson helped pour on the offense with one goal each.

Tonight’s effort was a complete showing from everyone on this roster. It would’ve been easy for this team to simply coast after taking a big early lead, but they never took their foot off the gas, eventually playing for their goaltender and helping him get the shutout. From the offensive fireworks of their superstars to the physical effort of guys like Adam Erne, it was a tremendous victory over a team currently occupying a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Bolts proved that lightning can really strike in the same place multiple times.

Over the course of the game’s opening six minutes, neither team amounted much in the way of 5-on-5 opportunities, although the Lightning came up empty-handed on an early power play chance. However, it was the Bolts’ second power play that saw them cash in. Stamkos tallied his 31st of the season when he one-timed a pass from Palat past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin at 7:19 for a 1-0 lead. Over the next five minutes, both teams created solid chances, but it was Tampa Bay who would only need 2:01 to turn this game into a rout.

Sergachev wired a wrist shot past Khudobin for his third of the season at 12:39. Just 14 seconds later, Johnson hit the 20-goal mark when Stamkos led him with a pass off the rush. Khudobin tried to poke it away, but Johnson beat him to the puck and jammed it home to make it 3-0 Lightning. Khudobin, who stopped all 30 shots he faced in Dallas’s 3-0 win at Florida on Tuesday night, got yanked after allowing three goals on seven shots. His backup, Landon Bow, didn’t fare much better.

Following a 10-game goalless drought, Kucherov’s offensive pace has been torrid.

Having already notched two assists by this point, Kucherov made it 4-0 at 14:40 with his 26th of the season. Alex Killorn jumped on a loose puck that squirted past Dallas’s Denis Gurianov, feeding Kucherov with a perfect pass that he one-timed past Bow. While the Stars out-shot the Lightning 13-10 in the period, that total was padded by a late power play. Tampa Bay was firmly in control of this game after 20 minutes.

Vasilevskiy proved to be sharp as the Lightning tack on two more in the second period.

Lost in the shuffle of this game was how well the Lightning netminder played in this contest. During the middle stanza, he came up with a handful of high-quality saves, most notably one on a breakaway by Mattias Janmark. Whenever the Stars found themselves with a good look at the net, Vasilevskiy stood tall, refusing to budge. On the other end of the ice, Tampa Bay continued to produce some solid chances of their own. Killorn tacked on his 12th of the season, making it 5-0 at 8:23 when he banked home a rebound off the pad of Khudobin, who came back into the game to start the second period.

All four Lightning lines were just too much for the Stars, as each forward group contributed in their own way. Erne was a physical force on the fourth line, while the third trio of Killorn, Cirelli, and JT Miller proved to be a handful. Point and Stamkos’s lines also caused a lot of havoc. Cirelli and Kucherov nearly increased the lead at different times with excellent chances, only to see Khudobin make fantastic saves to keep the puck out.

With 3:32 left on the clock and the Lightning on another power play, it was Stamkos who came up with a highlight-reel effort to make it 6-0.

The Lightning captain has been a force throughout this season and that play was a perfect illustration of why. He deked Andrew Cogliano out of his skates so hard he fell into the boards. Stamkos dished it to Kucherov, who sent it right back. Stamkos toyed with the Stars’ defense and Khudobin before lifting a shot past the beleaguered Dallas goalie for his 32nd of the season.

Over the final 20 minutes, the Lightning turned their attention to keeping the puck out of their net.

Finishing with a 32-26 edge in shots, the Stars weren’t without their opportunities. They even took Khudobin out of the game for a second time, putting Bow back into the crease. Early in the third period, Tyler Seguin created a chance with a quick wraparound, but Vasilevskiy quickly flashed the right pad to keep the puck out. Alexander Radulov also found himself with an open look from the slot, but Vasilevskiy once again stuck out his right pad as quick as a cat to deny him the opportunity. Stars captain Jamie Benn got into it with Erne in front of the Lightning bench, clearly frustrated by his team’s inability to find the back of the net.

Tampa Bay didn’t completely step on the gas in the final period, but they didn’t let off it, either. Which is a very encouraging sign for a team with such a big lead over everyone else in the NHL standings.

The Lightning return to action on Saturday night when the host the Montreal Canadiens at 7 pm.

Game Notes

-The Lightning have scored at least five goals in each game of their four-game winning streak.

-Johnson’s goal made him the Lightning’s fourth 20-goal scorer of the season, joining Point, Stamkos, and Kucherov in that category.

-Kucherov became the first player in Lightning history to score three or more points in three consecutive games. He joins Mark Scheifele and Phil Kessel as the only players in the NHL to accomplish that feat this season.

-Anton Stralman is now on a three-game assist streak.

-Vasilevskiy is now 5-0-1 in his career against Dallas.

-The Lightning have won five in a row over Dallas and is on a six-game point streak (5-0-1) against the Stars.

-Dating back to the 2005-06 season Tampa Bay is 12-3-3 against Dallas. Since 2006-07, the Bolts are 6-2-1 on home ice against the Stars.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Tallied another four points, giving him 11 in three games. He continues to lead the league in scoring, currently sitting at 92 points.

2nd Star: Steven Stamkos – A force at even strength and even more potent on the power play, finishing with a pair of power play goals and one assist.

3rd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – While not his busiest performance, he was still stellar when he needed to be, stopping all 32 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and 17th of his career.

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