Lightning even up Stanley Cup series with Stars

Nikita Kucherov congratulates Andrei Vasilevskiy, who improved to 6-0 following playoff losses this postseason in the Lightning 3-2 win over the Stars in Game Two to level the Stanley Cup Final. AP Photo credit Tampa Bay Lightning via Getty Images

After a flat start in which they were bottled up by the grinding style of the Stars, the Lightning pushed back by posting a 3-2 victory to take Game Two of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup series.

Even though they lost Game One by a count of 4-1, they were able to carry over the momentum from a dominant third period that saw them outshoot Dallas 22-2. Anton Khudobin was a brick wall in that one stopping all 22 shots en route to 35 saves. He got goals from Joel Hanley, Jamie Oleksiak, Joel Kiviranta and an empty netter from Jason Dickson as the astonishing Russian netminder continued his great run by garnering the Number One Star.

Would Khudobin be in the Lightning’s heads? The resounding answer was no. Due in large part to the Stars taking bad penalties, Tampa finally ended an 0-for-14 drought on the power play. Brayden Point was able to have his one-timer in the slot take a weird bounce off a Dallas stick by Khudobin into the top portion of the net. Nikita Kucherov made a, great pass with little wiggle room to find Point for his 10th of the postseason.

That goal was huge for the Bolts’ psyche. It loosened them up. With coach Jon Cooper going the more conventional route with a lineup of 12 forwards and 6 defensemen, they were rewarded. A third consecutive minor penalty on Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (tripping) resulted in Kucherov making a brilliant feed across to Ondrej Palat, who buried home his ninth for a 2-0 lead.

Victor Hedman helped set up both power play goals. He’s the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe if the Lightning win. If not, it’ll go to Khudobin, who kept his team in it after falling behind by three.

Less than a minute after the Palat tally, Kevin Shattenkirk connected from the point off a nice pass from key contributor Blake Coleman. The former Devil is up to eight assists in a secondary role on the third line. Anthony Cirelli recorded a helper.

At that point, one wondered if Dallas coach Rick Bowness would use his timeout. The period was so lopsided due to all the Stars penalties and sloppy play. A Dickinson giveaway caused the Shattenkirk goal. It was the polar opposite of the first two periods of Game One when Dallas built a three goal lead before sitting back.

Penalty trouble caused the Lightning to lose the momentum in a poor second period. The Stars sprung to life. Following an Andrew Cogliano breakaway that Vasilevskiy denied, they took over. Four consecutive Tampa penalties tilted the ice.

On the third straight Dallas power play drawn by Joe Pavelski, the gritty center was able to redirect a John Klingberg wrist shot past Vasilevskiy despite Ryan McDonagh being all over him. It was a skilled play by a skilled player, who always does his best work in the playoffs. Pavelski is now up to 10 goals for the Stars. The former Shark has really led the way along with captain Jamie Benn and youngster Denis Gurianov up front.

The Stars always activate their defense. Why not. They boast Klingberg and potential future Norris winner Miro Heiskanen, who is dangerous. Plus Oleksiak able to jump in. That defense almost dug them out of a three goal hole. They outshot the Lightning 18-5 in a much better period. Vasilevskiy shined by coming up with some big saves.

You knew it wasn’t over. Especially when a patient Klingberg somehow managed to find Mattias Janmark with his stick on the ice for a tip in off a brilliant pass to make it a one goal game with 14:33 left in regulation. It was a splendid play by one of the game’s most underrated players. Klingberg is a top 25 defenseman. Maybe higher. He’s very good at getting his shot through and finding seams.

Shattenkirk looked to have Janmark covered, but got outmuscled which resulted in the goal. As good as he is offensively, Shattenkirk is shaky in his end. He got blown up by a vicious Benn hit along the boards. It nearly resulted in Benn tying it. Somehow, he missed. He was that close to scoring the third consecutive Stars goal.

To their credit, the Lightning settled down. They reasserted themselves at even strength. Able to defend better in front of Vasilevskiy, who only had to stop five shots in the third, they thought they’d retaken a two goal lead. However, the linesmen missed an easy offside that negated a Mikhail Sergachev goal. It was an easy challenge for Bowness. Not sure how the officials didn’t see it.

Despite applying pressure, Dallas was never able to do enough to beat Vasilevskiy. They couldn’t sustain anything. It was the Bolts who shutdown the Stars with better attention to detail in the neutral zone and at their blueline. They did a great job protecting the 3-2 lead.

Tampa forechecked well. It was mostly Lightning over the final five minutes. They looked for an insurance goal. Only it didn’t come due to Khudobin, who still managed to play well in finishing with 28 saves. He had to contend with the top line of Point, Kucherov and Palat, who were in on two goals and buzzed all night. They combined for four points (2-2-4) and 11 shots.

A rare mistake from Hedman handed the Stars an icing with still 3.5 seconds left. Pavelski won the draw back to Klingberg, but his low shot was blocked to end the game. He didn’t get all of it.

The Lightning survived. They did a good enough job protecting the one goal lead. Game Three is tomorrow. It’s now a best-of-five series for the Cup.

Note: The teams combined for 101 hits. The Lightning held a slight 51-50 edge in the physicality. It’s the kind of hockey you’d expect at this point. It’s either hit or be hit.

Coleman and Palat each paced Tampa with seven hits apiece. Gurianov registered six for Dallas along with Oleksiak.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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