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Behind Their Power Play, Lightning Even the Series

EDMONTON, Alberta — The Tampa Bay Lightning came to play, then hung on to win.

Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman each had a pair of power-play assists in a three-goal first period as the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars, 3-2, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals on Monday.

The best-of-seven series is now tied 1-1. The Lightning improved to 6-0 in games following losses in this postseason. Kucherov has a goal and eight assists in those six games, while Brayden Point has five goals and two assists.

Point and Ondrej Palat had the power-play goals for the Lightning, and Kevin Shattenkirk scored what held up as the game-winner at even strength. The Stars’ Joe Pavelski had a power-play goal for Dallas, and Mattias Janmark added an even-strength goal, his first of the playoffs.

Now with 28 points, Kucherov is the leader in the playoff points race. Point and Pavelski’s goals were each their 10th of the postseason, tying them with Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks for the playoff goal-scoring lead.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves for the Lightning, while Anton Khudobin stopped 28 shots for the Stars.

“I thought we started out fine,” Dallas Coach Rick Bowness said. “It was an even game until we started taking penalties. Faceoffs, turnovers and penalties — things you can’t do against an elite club.”

Power plays sometimes seem hard to come by in the Stanley Cup finals, as referees are fearful of over-influencing the outcome of games that are often decided by narrow margins.

That hasn’t been the case in Edmonton. Eight penalties were called in Game 1, including one misconduct, then 13 minors in the first 40 minutes of Game 2 — seven to the Lightning and six to the Stars.

Game 1 was a 4-1 win for the Stars, with all goals coming at even strength. But if momentum can carry over from one game to another, Tampa Bay was able to tap into it. The Lightning executed well but didn’t connect on three power-play chances in the third period of Game 1, then connected on two of their three opportunities in the first period of Game 2.

“It’s been streaky,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said. “We seem to score in bunches on the power play and we definitely needed them tonight.”

“We had some good looks in the first game and we just couldn’t score,” Kucherov said. “We have to keep it simple. I guess that’s the key to our success today.”

ImageNikita Kucherov, right, leads all players in points this postseason.
Credit…Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

For the first time in seven games, Tampa Bay opened the scoring. Midway through the first period, while Pavelski was in the penalty box for tripping, Point converted a perfect pass from Kucherov and beat Khudobin high to the glove side.

It was the first goal in four games for Point, who missed two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Islanders while battling an injury.

Shortly afterward, while Jamie Oleksiak served a holding penalty, Kucherov threaded another perfect pass, this time all the way across the ice. With Khudobin out of position, Palat hit the open net for his ninth goal of the playoffs.

“He makes plays like that all the time, puts the puck in such good spots for guys to be able to score and be able to succeed,” Point said of Kucherov. “We’ve seen it a lot. We just try to get open for him and try to get good shots off when he puts it in good spots for us.”

“Everybody’s going to look at the wonderful skill plays he makes, but you look at his battle level,” Cooper said about Kucherov. “You look at when he goes in for 50-50, or 40-60, and he still comes out with the puck. It’s impressive.”

Less than a minute after Palat’s goal, Tampa Bay extended its lead to 3-0 when Shattenkirk connected for his second goal of the playoffs with a blast from the right point.

The three tallies came within a span of less than four minutes, and during a stretch of 14 minutes and 35 seconds when the Stars failed to record a shot on goal.

In the second period, it was the Lightning’s turn to start taking penalties. On the fourth power-play opportunity of the night for Dallas, while Palat was serving a slashing minor in the second period, the Stars took just five seconds to tally their first goal — a net-front tip by Pavelski.

Near the end of the second, tempers flared. A scrum involving all 10 skaters ensued after Tampa Bay’s Patrick Maroon ventured a little too close to Khudobin. Maroon was assessed a goaltender interference penalty and four other players took roughing minors — the final penalties of the night.

In the third, the Stars continued to press. Janmark brought his team within a goal with 15:33 left to play in regulation, when he deflected a sneaky net-front pass from John Klingberg past Vasilevskiy.

With 10:46 left, the Lightning appeared to score a fourth goal when a Mikhail Sergachev shot beat Khudobin. After a coach’s challenge, the goal was disallowed because the play was ruled offside.

With the clock ticking down, the Lightning players kept their cool, preserving the win despite pressure from the Stars right up to the final horn.

“There was no quit,” Pavelski said. “We started to find our game. We need to stay at that level going forward.”

“It was a winnable game for us,” Bowness said. “We just didn’t get the third goal.”

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