By Andy Eide
Well, it looks like we have ourselves a series. The Tampa Bay Lightning bounced back in the Stanley Cup Final’s second game with a trio of first period goals to build a lead. The three scores would end up being enough as they held of a Dallas Stars push to win the game 3- 2 and even the series at 1-1.
“We wanted to come out with some speed and our feet moving, trying to get on the forecheck,” Brayden Point said after the game. “They did a good job last game of eliminating our forecheck and eliminating speed. I thought we came out skating and we had some chances right off the bat.”
Game 3 will take place Wednesday as both teams look to force their style on the other and try to build a lead in the series.
Lightning strike on power play
The Tampa Bay power play should be one of the best. They throw offensively gifted players like Nikita Kucherov, Point, and Victor Hedman on the ice and it’s a unit that’s tough to handle.
But they had been struggling,
They had been held scoreless on 15 straight attempts and were in a 1-for-21 slump heading onto their second look in the first period Monday night. That’s when the power play came to life.
Point cashed in first, with a quick shot in the slot, after Kucherov fed him with a great pass.
Goal No. 10 for Brayden Point was an easy candidate for Shot of the Night. #StanleyCup
NHL x @JagermeisterUSA pic.twitter.com/HB8r7y9ttB
— NHL (@NHL) September 22, 2020
It would be another Kucherov pass later in the period that found Ondrej Palat in front of the net with all kinds of twine to shoot at. He didn’t miss and picked up his ninth of the playoffs as the Lightning were off and running.
Nikita Kucherov ➡️ Ondrej Palat 🚨#StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Gn1OIH6rYr
— NHL (@NHL) September 22, 2020
“We just stuck to what we had,” Kucherov said about the power play. “We had some good looks in the first game we just couldn’t score. We stuck to what we had to do, keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net, and get the rebounds.”
Dallas is a physical team with little to no fear in throwing a hit. If the Tampa power play starts to click again, the Stars might want to play a bit more cautiously.
Kucherov’s battle level
Before he was firing pinpoint passes to his mates on the power play, Kucherov had to fight through some tough spots in Game 2.
He took a big hit from Dallas’ Jamie Benn, slammed into the boards later, and had to leave the ice briefly. As one of the top players in the NHL, he garners a lot of attention, but fought through it all to end the night with two points, tying Martin St. Louis for the franchise record in points during a playoff run with 28.
#GoBolts Nikita Kucherov collision with #GoStars Jamie Benn pic.twitter.com/mQNcjrz8sP
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 22, 2020
“He’s elevated his game in many different ways,” the Lightning’s Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We obviously know how dangerous he is on the power play and that’s something he uses to get himself going.”
There have been times in the past where Kucherov has let his emotions get the best of him. He’d show frustration and let it take over – see last year’s playoff suspension against Columbus.
But, this time around he’s fighting through it.
“It’s his battle level,” Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said Monday night. “Everybody is going to look at the wonderful skill plays he makes but you look at his battle level, you look when he goes into a 50-50 or 40-60 (puck battle) and he still comes out with the puck, that’s impressive to me…when you’ve got the skill he does and he still does that, it’s pretty impressive.”
Game of momentum swings
During the third period of Game 1, the Lightning dominated. They out shot the Stars 22-2 but were turned away over and over by Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin.
Tampa Bay carried the momentum from that period into Monday’s Game 2.
The Lightning scored the three goals and out shot the Stars 14-6 over the opening 20 minutes. The three power-play chances helped but Tampa Bay also held a 9-3 five-on-five shot advantage.
Dallas didn’t cave and got its game going in the second period. The Stars controlled the pace and out shot the Lightning 18-5 to snatch the momentum back. Joe Pavelski scored on the power play to cut the lead to 3-1 heading into the final period.
The Stars kept pushing and would get to within one when Mattias Janmark scored his first of the playoffs thanks to a pretty pass off of John Klingberg’s stick. Dallas had all the momentum with plenty of time left and the Lightning appeared to be on the doorstep of blowing a 3-0 lead.
“For us, we had to fight off a couple penalties in the second period and that got us out of our rhythm a little bit,” Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk said. “They’re obviously going to make a push when you get up by three. You have to make sure you just play the same game. You don’t want to sit on a lead. I thought after that the guys banded together to make plays, get pucks in and hemming them in.”
The Lightning did exactly that.
After the Janmark goal cut the lead, the Lightning took over the play.
Over the final 14-plus minutes, Tampa Bay out shot Dallas 11-1 to close out the game and even the series.
“We just never put ourselves in panic mode,” Cooper said of his team. “Instead of trying to protect the lead we went out there and took it to them…we were really engaged and a great attitude on the bench.”
Pavelski ties Mike Modano
Pavelski’s goal in the second period was his 58th career playoff score and tied him with former Dallas Star Mike Modano for the most postseason goals in the NHL by an American born player. What’s impressive is that Pavelski reached the mark in 19 fewer games than Modano did and both guys are looking up at Joe Mullen who scored 60 times in the postseason. Can Pavelski reach him this year?
The goal was a typical, ho-hum deflection from in front of the net. It would be an incredible skill play if anyone else had done it. But this is what we are used to now from Pavelski who is hand’s down the best puck deflector in the NHL.
Joe Pavelski (@jpav8) works for tips. #StanleyCup ￼ pic.twitter.com/1P9BRak9zb
— Luisツ (@Quintero_Funes) September 22, 2020
Pavelski climbed another scoring list. The goal was the 10th the former San Jose Shark has scored during this playoff run which ranks him one behind the great Maurice Richard for most goals in the playoffs by a player over 36-years-old.
Richard had 11 in 1958 and Pavelski has at least three more games to tie the record.