Tampa Bay overcame a physical first period to dominate Dallas
Maybe it’s time that we in the Tampa Bay area start thinking of a nickname for the Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov. The trio once again were all over the score sheet. Stamkos had two goals and two assists, Kucherov had a goal and two assists, and Namestnikov had an assist to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 6-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.
The early action involved a lot of physical hockey as the Lightning and Stars tried to get a feel for one another. First, Dallas’ Jamie Oleksiak got into a shoving match behind the Lightning net after a shot that Vasilevskiy covered up. A few minutes later, Vladislav Namestnikov and Dan Hamhuis dropped the gloves and drew major penalties during an out and out fight in the Lightning’s offensive zone. Shortly thereafter there was a teamwide shoving match in front of Vasilevskiy, all of this with hits scattered in between.
Tampa Bay controlled possession early for the most part, but between the physical play and the play of returning hero Ben Bishop, the Lightning struggled to get results off their prolonged pressure. A two minute power play in the first yielded zero shots. In all, the Lightning took 13 shots on Ben Bishop in the first period but not one of them went through. Despite the clear control of the puck and the action, Tampa Bay looked a bit out of sorts in that first.
The second period started with 1:52 of a Lightning power play left on the clock, care of a hooking penalty to Greg Pateryn in the closing seconds of the first. It would provide Tampa Bay a chance to get back to their preferred shoot-first, fast-moving style of hockey. The Bolts would only need 47 seconds of that power play, as a pass found Steven Stamkos in the faceoff circle to Ben Bishop’s right, and Stamkos blasted a slapshot past the goaltender.
The Stars briefly tied it up when Radek Faksa blocked a shot, creating a breakaway opportunity that he put past Vasilevskiy. It was a short-lived tie, as Mikhail Sergachev ripped a slapshot off a blocked shot to put Tampa Bay back in front 2-1. After what seemed like a bit of a slow first period, the action picked up in the second period in a big way.
Brayden Point made up for the Lightning’s first power play by stealing a Ben Bishop pass behind the net and wrapping around to make the score 3-1 on a shorthanded goal.
Hockey taught everybody a quick lesson on Thursday night about shot totals. In the first period, Tampa Bay took thirteen shots. Not one of them went in. In the second period, they scored three times in just eight attempts, taking control of the game during a period in which they were outshot 15-8. The second period was also considerably less physical than the first, as the Lightning started playing their preferred style and the Stars were too busy trying to keep up to start trouble.
In the third period, Steven Stamkos scored a second goal of the night off a seemingly effortless centering pass from Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov was set up with a pass in front of net that he couldn’t handle, so he simply waited for his linemate and dumped the puck off to him for a textbook goal. Jake Dotchin added another at 8:18 into the third to make the score 5-1. The rout was on, and once again the team with the NHL’s best record cruised to a victory.
The score ballooned to 6-1 after another set of picturesque passes set Nikita Kucherov with a tap-in goal in the second half of the third period.
Ben Bishop was honored during a break in the first period. The Lightning played a Bishop highlight reel and asked fans to show their appreciation. They needed no such prompting. The packed house at Amalie Arena roared for Bishop throughout the tribute, and Bishop acknowledged the crowd in any way he could under all the pads goalies wear.
The sellout crowd also showed quite a bit of appreciation for the military. Tampa isn’t just a hockey town, after all, it’s in many ways a military town and they show their Military Appreciation Night the proper respect. The specific veterans honored included a World War II veteran named Cliff Zalay, who played the national anthem on his harmonica while the crowd sang the lyrics. Another WWII veteran, John Tedesco, was there for the ceremonial puck drop. Topping off Military Appreciation Night, during the first intermission a Marine Corps enlistment ceremony took place at center ice in front of the Amalie Arena crowd of 19,092.
The Lightning remain in Tampa for the weekend. On Saturday night they’ll host the New York Islanders and powerhouse center John Tavares. At 10-6-2, the Isles are a tough team this season and should provide an interesting test for the Lightning.