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Special Teams Pace Lightning over Stars

TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Lightning’s penalty killers staked their claim in Saturday night’s 5-0 win over the Dallas Stars and the offense then took the game over.

The Lightning’s vaunted penalty kill is fifth in the NHL with an 86.9 kill percentage, but needed to be on point as Dallas has the fifth best power play in the NHL at 30.9 percent.

“That was a catalyst for our win tonight,” said Lightning coach John Cooper. “You can’t take six penalties. (Anthony) Cirelli came in and helped out and we needed him because we were rolling four players for a while.”

Tampa Bay killed five Dallas penalties in the first two periods and six for the entire game.

The Lightning had a tough night in the penalty box as they had six penalties and Cooper knew they put his special teams in too many tough positions.

Pat Maroon and Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak were handed five minute fighting penalties at 6:51 of the first period. The game stopped as the two squared up and fought.

“Patty is a team first guy and he is going to do something to spark the guys and in a game against the team we played in the finals you expect some physicality,” explained Steven Stamkos. “They pushed and Patty with a huge response.”

Cooper thought the early fight might have kick-started the overall Lightning effort.

“I don’t know if we had the greatest start, but I think the Maroon fight – pardon the pun – brought us into the fight,” stated Cooper. “ As the game got going, so did our legs.”

Stamkos added his 10th goal of the season at 1:07 into the third off of a Cirelli assist. He and Cirelli, who returned after missing six games with upper body injuries, paced the Lightning attack with a goal and an assist each.

The Lightning broke the game open in the second period when Ondrej Palat and Pat Maroon added a couple of power play goals while Cirelli scored a shorthanded marker as Tampa Bay opened up s 4-0 lead at the 15:12 mark of the second period.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was stellar once again as he stopped all 20 pucks which were thrown his way.  He was never really threatened  as Tampa Bay presented a swarming defense that limited a Dallas offense that was averaging 31.4 shots on goal in the last five games.

This was the Lightning’s fourth consecutive win as Tampa Bay has outscored it opponents 15-3 in the four-game winning streak.

“I like our team,” noted Cooper. “It’s been a weird year playing all these teams over and over again. Everybody is chipping in. We are not a perfect team but most nights we play pretty good hockey.”

After a tripping penalty by Dallas winger Jason Robertson at 13:15 in the first period, Palat scored his eighth goal of the season as Brayden Point won the ensuing face-off which went off of Alex Killorn’s stick and then ricocheted to Palat’s blade for a 1-0 lead.

The Lightning penalty kill was tasked immediately in the second period as well when defenseman Victor Hedman was called for a hold just 52 seconds into the second frame. Then a hooking penalty on Ryan McDonough at 2:40 gave Dallas a two-man advantage for 12 seconds.

An errant puck went awry and onto the waiting stick of Cirelli, who made good on a short-handed opportunity at 4:06 for a 2-0 Bolts’ lead on his breakaway goal. It was a franchise tying seventh shorthanded goal for Cirelli.

Cirelli scooted the puck past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin on the right side of the crease to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead.

Then, at 15:36, Pat Maroon scored off of the tap in on the left side of the net as he received the pass from Johnson and Sergachev obliged with the secondary assist.