The Stanley Cup Final is square at a game apiece.
In a clash that in many ways mirrored their series-opening loss, the Tampa Bay Lightning sprung to a quick lead in Game 2 and hung on to defeat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday night to even the NHL’s championship series.
Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk scored across the space of four minutes in the first period for the Lightning, which was enough to thwart a comeback bid from the Stars that was built on goals from Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had 27 saves after an underwhelming performance in Game 1, while Anton Khudobin stopped 28 shots in the loss.
Game 3 is scheduled for Wednesday night.
What a breakthrough can do for you
It wasn’t a particularly encouraging start for the Lightning, who immediately looked like a team that wasn’t just grappling with an opponent — but its overall health as well. Nikita Kucherov was a magnet for punishment in the first few shifts, especially, and he wasn’t the only important player to take a walk down the tunnel to receive attention in the first few moments of the games.
The most damning signs pointing to the idea that the Lightning were losing this war on attrition came with their first power play opportunity of the game, which sadly went to waste. But when the Stars made another mistake, and the Lightning had the chance to atone for a lost opportunity, they earned a breakthrough on a goal from Brayden Point, and the swagger seemed to return to the Eastern Conference champions, just like that.
Demonstrating that shift in demeanour the most was Kucherov, who went from appearing unfit for the special teams flank on the man-advantage one minute, to sending this showtime feed across the ice to Ondrej Palat for the second Lightning goal of the period the next.
Lightning strikes again, this time it's Ondrej Palat off a beautiful Nikita Kucherov (@86Kucherov) feed. ⚡ #StanleyCup
🇺🇸: https://t.co/RK1gzUmsqo @NHLonNBCSports
🇨🇦: https://t.co/eVCyWTbCNm @Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/w9W5CLCzeW
— NHL (@NHL) September 22, 2020
Kucherov’s delicious apple was part of probably the best collection of Lightning shifts versus Dallas so far, and it’s no coincidence that it came after they earned their first lead of the series. There’s a value in just having something go in your favour, and the Stars certainly wouldn’t deny that.
Horses in the back
The Lightning introduced sweeping changes to their blue line in Game 2, inserting Jan Rutta and removing both Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn from the lineup. While it was a departure from the norm in terms of both personnel and lineup configuration throughout the playoffs, this was actually a return to normalcy in a way, with the six defensemen chosen for the game making up the three pairings with the highest usage dating back to the regular season.
More than that, though, it underscored just how much value the Lightning have placed into experience and depth at the position. Nine defenseman have made appearances in the postseason for Tampa Bay, and the three that were left out of the lineup in Game 2, but have filled significant roles to this point — Luke Schenn, Zach Bogosian, and Braydon Coburn — have 2,367 regular-season games between them.
Leaving that much tread in the press box, obviously Jon Cooper is leaning toward some of the more fresh-faced players on his roster, but it’s not like he’s sacrificing experience. All nine defenders who have seen time have each appeared in at least 125 regular-season games, while the total number between them is at 4,950 games.
That’s a remarkable number, and I can’t imagine there’s an another organization that can even come close to it.
Dug a little deeper into this — Lightning's nine dmen used in these playoffs have 4,950 regular season games between them.
Chara has 1553 by himself, and the B's can't come remotely close to this much experience. https://t.co/BpHt7r8mXj
— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) September 22, 2020
The deflection god
There are not many players who can say they do one thing clearly better than anyone else, but Joe Pavelski is one of them.
Pavelski earned a share of the postseason lead in goals with the latest in a countless line of deflections he’s scored with in his NHL career late in the second period of Game 2.
— #StanleyCup Final on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 22, 2020
It was the marker that initiated a near comeback, which, I guess, fell one deflection short.
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