The Tampa Bay Lightning came to Texas looking to get a critical two points against the Dallas Stars; a team who despite being the top team in the Western Conference, were also in a desperate place as they attempt to hold on to their number one overall seed. Both teams knew with only a few weeks of the season left, the ability to get any points could be the difference between home ice advantage for Dallas or in the case of Tampa missing the playoffs entirely in a crowded Eastern Conference. The Lightning and Stars have both struggled recently having lost three of their last four games entering tonight. The ability to get those crucial points in the standings would likely be determined by which team’s strength could impose their will on the other. The Stars would bring their league leading goals scored per game offense into tonight, while the Lightning would attempt to counter the Dallas attack with the best goaltender in the league for goals against in Ben Bishop. The ability to get an early lead especially for the road team would likely determine who left Dallas feeling breathing easier and who would face even more pressure to perform as the season comes to a close.
The 1st period started with the ultra fast and aggressive Dallas Stars attempting to test the stingiest goalie in the league Ben Bishop, as both left wingers Patrick Sharp and Jamie Benn would attempt early rushes that did not result in goals but set the tone that they intended to challenge the Lightning defense to stop them. The Lightning aided by the return of gritty center Cedric Paquette from injury attempted to counter-act the Dallas attack by attempting to establish a physical forecheck early in the 1st period. While Pacquette was successful in establishing his presence, Tampa’s winger Michael Blunden would go to far trying to follow Pacquette’s lead when he would receive the first penalty of the night for boarding Dallas center Radek Faksa near the Tampa bench. The Blunden penalty would give the fourth ranked Dallas power play their first opportunity of the night with the man advantage. Dallas nearly took an early lead on a Tyler Seguin one-timer that Ben Bishop was able to anticipate and stop but provided a rebound that was shot over an empty Tampa net allowing the Bolts to kill the remainder of the penalty and keeping the game scoreless midway through the 1st period. The Lightning would catch a break leading to their first lead of the game after killing their first penalty of the game. Andrej Sustr would throw an awkward angle shot at the Dallas goal that would be deflected off Alex Killorn’s stick, and pinball off of Nikita Kucherov’s skate past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen giving Tampa the 1-0 lead just after the halfway mark of the 1st period. On the next face off after the Kucherov goal, Tampa’s Ryan Callahan and Dallas’s Antoine Roussel would exchange words and then fists with one another sending both players to the penalty box for fighting. While the fight would be a draw, the effect of the fight seemed to energize the Stars who began to pressure the Tampa offensive zone relentlessly. The pressure would eventually pay off as Jason Spezza would lead a two on one break after receiving a pass from Valeri Nischushkin, and would juke Bishop who despite getting a piece of the puck could not prevent it from bouncing into the net tying the game at 1-1 late in the 1st period. The 1st period would close out with both teams continuing to skate hard attempting to gain a lead heading into the break but both goalies would ensure the game would remained tied 1-1 as the horn sounded. The Stars would hold a small 7-6 shots on goal advantage after the 1st period.
The 2nd period would start with the Tampa Bay Lighting looking to counter-attack the aggressive Dallas Stars. Steven Stamkos would execute a this strategy perfectly as he would take an errant Dallas shot the full length of the ice, forcing Dallas winger Valeri Nichushkin to take a holding penalty preventing a Stamkos shot on goal but giving the Lightning their first power play of the night. The embattled Tampa power play would finally end their 0-19 draught as Steven Stamkos would bury a long bouncing rebound for his 32nd goal on the year after an initial Nikita Kucherov shot, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead early in the 2nd period. The lead would not last long as Tampa defender Andrej Sustr would force a terrible pass through the Lightning zone resulting in a turnover to Dallas lethal sharpshooter Jamie Benn who would bury a perfect far side shot past Ben Bishop tying the game at 2-2 early in the 2nd period. The Lightning would continue to test Kari Lehtonen as Steven Stamkos would attempt to feed his line mate Alex Killorn as he streaked towards the Dallas net but the puck would bounce just over Killorn’s stick preventing a potential Tampa goal midway through the 2nd period. Dallas’s Jamie Benn would continue to slice through the Tampa defense and nearly made the play of the year late in the 2nd period as he got tripped coming up the ice with the puck, spun his body to protect the puck laying flat on the ice, regained his skates, deked a Tampa defenseman and nearly provided a perfect one time pass that would be tipped over the boards at the very last second keeping the game tied 2-2. Nikita Kucherov would attempt to give Tampa a lead late in the 2nd period as he got Kari Lehtonen to bite on a fake but could not get off a shot from a good angle but was able to keep the possession alive setting up the most dominant shift of the game from the Lightning. Tampa would extend the initial Kucherov possession to nearly a minute in the Dallas offensive zone. The extended possession would tire out the Stars defenders, allowing Alex Killorn to find Steven Stamkos near the goal mouth as he snuck the puck past Kari Lehtonen for his second goal of the game and gave giving Tampa the 3-2 late in the 2nd period. The Lightning would finish out the 2nd period with several strong shifts continuing to pressure the Dallas defenders and allowing them to take the 3-2 lead into the break. The teams would be tied with 16 shots on goal apiece after two periods.
The 3rd period began with the Dallas Stars looking to turn up their offensive pressure as Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp would start on a line together to open the period and would get the Stars two good scoring chances, but could not beat Bishop for the equalizer during the first minute of the 3rd period. The Lightning would continue to see constant pressure from a Dallas Stars team that was showing a sense of urgency on every shift. The Lightning would finally see their first chance of the third period when Steven Stamkos nearly got his hat trick as Nikita Kucherov found him with a pass near Kari Lehtonen’s net, but he was unable to get his blade on the stick preventing any chance at a shot. The Stars would get an offensive boost from an unlikely source as young defenseman Stephen Johns would blast his 1st career goal past Bishop midway through the 3rd period to tie the game at 3-3. It appeared that Bishop lost track of the puck due to a screen of bodies in front of his net, as Johns slap shot from the blue line slid past him for the equalizer. The Stars would continue to dominate the Tampa Bay Lightning as Jamie Benn again attack the Bolts defense, who would allow him to get in close to Ben Bishop and bury his second goal of the game giving Dallas the 4-3 lead midway in the 3rd period. The Lightning would fail to match Dallas’s intensity as Ben Bishop would continue to see a barrage of shots despite being the team in need of a goal to tie the game. Coach Jon Cooper would attempt to pull Ben Bishop to get an extra attacker late in the 3rd period but Tampa could not gain possession of the puck until about 1:30 left in the game, preventing any extended chance to tie the game. The last moments would see Tampa with the puck in the Dallas zone, but they were unable to get a shot off on Kari Lehtonen; sealing a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars. The Stars would out shoot the Lighting 33-20 for the game including a huge 17-4 disparity in the 3rd period where Tampa was completely overwhelmed.
The Lightning would drop to 40-26-5, with 85 points. The Stars would improve to 42-21-9, with 93 points on the year.
The Lightning will finish their four game road trip as they head to Arizona on Saturday March 19th, to face the Arizona Coyotes. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 10:00 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Jamie Benn – Benn completely dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman tonight as he scored two goals to include the game winner. Every shift Benn skated it looked like he was either scoring goals, nearly scoring goals, or trying to set up his teammates to score a goal. The Lightning had no answer for him tonight.
- Stephen Johns– The young defenseman not known for his scoring touch got his first goal of his career in a major way as he tied the game midway through the 3rdperiod. His goal allowed the Dallas floodgates to open and secure a critical win for his team’s Western Conference #1 seed hopes.
- Steven Stamkos – The captain was an offensive juggernaut tonight, he tried all he could to carry his team on his back scoring two goals and nearly getting a hat trick in the 3rdperiod but he did not get a similar effort from his teammates unfortunately.
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