The Dallas Stars (38-28-11) have been playing extremely good hockey as of late. In their last 6 games before heading out to the East coast they were 5-1. First stop on the trip was a game in Raleigh to play a 14th seeded Hurricanes team. The Stars lost a rather decisive contest by a score of 4-1 and many fans started to feel the ghosts of seasons past creep into the 2014 club. Next stop on the road trip was a test against one of the Eastern Conference’s best, the Tampa Bay Lightning (42-27-9), in St.Petersburg. In seasons past this would have been a perfect place for the Stars to feel deflated from the previous loss and potentially roll over against a much more formidable foe. Instead, a laserbeam of leadership and accountability took centre stage in the form of Kari Lehtonen and Jamie Benn. Benn and Lehtonen paced the Stars to an important win while also helping the team hop back into the top 8 in the Western Conference. Benn scored 2 first period goals and Lehtonen made a very timely 27 saves to help Stars fans and players forget about Thursday’s night debacle to the Hurricanes. Stars also received goals from Tyler Seguin, Antoine Roussel and Vernon Fiddler.
Dallas came out like a team who knew exactly what was at stake. They understood that they missed an opportunity to create some breathing room in the Western Conference playoff picture in their previous outing and were determined not to let tonight be another letdown. Just 40 seconds into the contest captain Jamie Benn put the Stars ahead with a deflection past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. Benn had swung around the back of net and then came out front calling for the puck with his stick in the air. Defenceman Alex Goligoski then spied Benn at the side of the net for the captain’s 31st goal of the season. Tyler Seguin was also credited with his 45th assist of the season on the play. Less than 5 minutes later, Benn struck again as he burrowed a hole through Bishop with a heavy shot from the left circle. Ryan Garbutt and Vernon Fiddler were credited with the assists on Benn’s second goal of the night, 32nd of the season. After Dallas jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the Lightning, Kari Lehtonen then took over. Lehtonen stoned multiple different Lightning players with his quick reflexes in tight and then put an exclamation point on his first period efforts with a sassy glove grab on Lightning centre Alex Killorn. Tyler Seguin would then stake the Stars to a 3-0 lead when he won the offensive zone draw, slipped to the net, received a pass from Stars defenceman Jordie Benn, and deposited the puck low glove past Bishop. This goal was Seguin’s 35th of the season and assists were credited to both Benn brothers. The Stars would finish the period on the penalty kill as forward Antoine Roussel would be whistled for a late penalty.
Dallas began the 2nd period by killing the remainder of Roussel’s late penalty and appeared to try and rest on their 3-0 lead. The Lightning found their skating legs after a slow first period and peppered Lehtonen with shots from all angles. Captain of the Lightning, Steven Stamkos, would get the home side on the board with a shot that deflected off Stars defenceman Sergei Gonchar and between Lehtonen’s legs. This was the Lightning captain’s 24th of the season and it came just 1:57 into the middle frame. Lehtonen would continue his strong play throughout the period but would be perforated for the Lightning’s second goal of the game when defenceman Andrej Sustr scored his 1st goal of the season. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone then halted the home side’s momentum when he took a double-minor penalty for high sticking. The Stars had various great looks on the powerplay but were unable to extend their lead. With less than a minute remaining in the penalty, Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula broke in all alone on Lehtonen but could not beat the Stars netminder. The Stars carried their slim 3-2 advantage to the intermission.
With 20 minutes to go in the contest, the Stars decided that sitting back and trying to protect the lead was not a good idea against a very skilled Lightning team. Vern Fiddler cued the offensive onslaught on the Tampa Bay net in the 3rd period and ended up scoring his 6th goal of the season. Fiddler gathered in a loose puck infront of the Tampa Bay net and roofed a backhand over Bishop’s shoulder to give the Stars a much needed insurance tally. The goal went unassisted at 1:26 of the third period. The Stars would then put the game away a few minutes later when Antoine Roussel swooped into the offensive zone and put home a loose puck past Bishop. The play all started when Ryan Garbutt threw a long distance shot on net that Cody Eakin then punched towards the front of the net. Bishop thought he had the puck covered but instead Roussel was able to finish off his 14th goal of the season. The Stars would take two minor penalties the rest of the period but Lehtonen stonewalled the Lightning shooters en route to a 5-2 win.
Notes and Observations
-Erik Cole returned to the lineup after missing 7 consecutive games with an upper body injury. He skated on the fourth line with Dustin Jeffery and Alex Chiasson for the majority of the night.
-Recent callup Chris Mueller took warmup but was scratched for the game along with defenceman Kevin Connauton.
-Radko Gudas was given a 5-minute major and match penalty for his hit to the head of Stars forward Antoine Roussel. Roussel stayed in the game and scored the Stars 5th goal of the night.
-The Stars powerplay continued to struggle as they were 0-for-4 on the man advantage tonight which included a 5-minute major and 4-minute double minor
-Stars will play tomorrow evening against the Florida Panthers at 5pm EST and Tim Thomas is expected to get the start.