For a brief moment, the Dallas Stars thought the door may have opened, but then it immediately was slammed as the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled away from Dallas to take a 6-2 win in Amalie Arena on Wednesday night.
Trailing 3-1 midway through the third period, Dallas defenseman Andrej Sekera put Dallas back in the game for a moment with a long goal from the right side just inside the blue line as it cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 at 10:44.
However, some 50 seconds later Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Cernak slammed the door and put the Stars on the brink of elimination.
Cernak fired a long slap shot from just behind the right circle as it found the back of the net and gave the Lightning a 4-2 lead at 11:34.
Barclay Goodrow set Cernak up as he had a clear look to fire the laser and send the Lightning to their 36th win of the season.
It was Tampa Bay’s sixth win in seven games vs. Dallas as the final game of the eight will take place in Tampa Bay on Friday evening. It also pulled the Lightning into a tie with the Florida Panthers with 75 points each. The two teams meet in Sunrise, Fla. this weekend.
“When you think about playoff series and stuff, there’s gonna be ups and downs,” said Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn. “The shot went off Pointer’s (Brayden Point’s) stick. It’s one of those you would like to have back. That line – (Blake) Coleman, Gourdo (Yanni Gourde) and (Barclay) Goodrow – has been really good for us, but Cernak was unbelievable for us tonight, too.”
Cernak finished with a goal and two assists as Killorn and Point had a goal and an assist a piece as well.
The Lightning broke the game open late in the second period when Gourde found Killorn on the doorstep of the crease at 16:39 in the second period.
Killorn pushed the puck under Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger’s blocker for a 2-1 Lightning lead. Point pushed the cross ice pass to Gourde who set up Killorn perfectly.
Point wasn’t finished.
He plucked the puck off of Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell’s stick blade in the Stars zone and then set himself up in front of Oettinger and used his stick-handling for the the 3-1 lead at 19:47.
It was Point’s 23rd goal of the season and punctuated his puck-handling and stick-handling perfectly.
“The games with them never give up scoring chances either way so that was par for the course,” explained Lightning coach John Cooper. “They are on life support regarding the playoffs – a proud team. They came out and pushed in third. They got that goal, so maybe they used a lots of energy when they were playing six guys.”
Tampa Bay drew first blood at 2:14 in the first when Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen lost the puck on a turnover in the neutral zone at center ice, Killorn had his shot blocked and it landed in the middle of Tyler Johnson’s blade for an early goal and a 1-0 lead.
It was Johnson’s first goal since back on Mar. 21 when he connected in a win over Florida, but also his eighth marker of the season.
“Johnny is a pro he has been in the league for a number of years now,” said Cooper. “He has been in every situation. Guys want to score especially going into the playoffs. You want to feel good about your game. You’re just happy for him when he gets it in the lap like that.”
Dallas struck late at 19:33 in the first on Tyler Seguin’s second goal of the season that saw Joe Pavelski collect his 27th helper of the season while Jason Robertson added his 24th. Seguin had been out forthe first 51 games as he was sidelined with a lower body injury. He played in Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Florida and scored a goal as well.
Tampa Bay was outshot 22-20 although the Lightning scored six goals on the 20 shots. Ross Colton and Mikhail Sergachev added a pair of late empty net goals to finish the win.
Robertson played the puck up the wall where Pavelski gathered in the left circle and passed it under Victor Hedman and just under the stick of Cernak. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was caught leaning to his right and Seguin was able to push the puck by him.
Even with the eight combined goals, this was more of a tight defensive game that the Lightning were able to break open and then add the icing to the cake with the late empty-netters.
“Our division is about checks and if you are not going to do that, then you’re going to be in trouble,” said Cooper. “We are playing the same teams over and over again and they all are defensive and have good structure in their defensive games. It’s probably helped us actually.”