The Tampa Bay Lightning rallied back and defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 on Saturday night after ceding the first goal of the game. Nikita Kucherov led the way offensively as he registered the primary assist on both the game-tying and game-winning goals.
Even though the game was not in the bag until Alex Killorn scored on an empty net, the Lightning played an overall solid game as they largely controlled the pace of play throughout.
Let’s breakdown what happened.
1. McDonagh Returned, But Palat and Cernak Remain Out
On one side it was great to see Ryan McDonagh return and slide into his minute crunching defensive role seamlessly, but uncertainty over the status of Ondrej Palat and Erik Cernak lingers. Palat had reportedly been playing through an injury, prior to missing Thursday’s game, and Cernak was injured after blocking a shot in Thursday’s game. In their absence we saw Corey Perry slide up to the first line with Point and Kucherov, and Cal Foote step in for Cernak.
As long as Palat remains out, I hope to see Cooper continue to give Perry minutes on the top line as having two crafty playmakers – Kucherov and Perry – together with Point could prove to be a scoring force. In their 13 minutes of ice-time last night they did not score but controlled the chances on the ice with a 68.42 corsi% but in the process ceded more dangerous scoring chances to the Stars as their xGF% was only 47.67. Considering how little Perry has played with Kucherov amid Kucherov’s early season injury, I think this was a promising sign for what could be.
2. Kucherov Continues to Prove His Worth Is Priceless
There is not much more to be said about Nikita Kucherov than what has already been said since the start of the 2020 Cup run. He continually proves himself to be the Lightning’s best and most important player offensively. He was so tonight as his primary assists on the Lightning’s first and second goals delivered the Lightning the win.
Firstly, it was his one-touch pass to Brayden Point in the slot on the power play that he always makes look too easy.
Then in the third period Kucherov found Ross Colton streaking up the ice for a clean breakaway behind the Stars’ defense. I mean how many other plays in the league can thread the puck through that gap, or even know to be ready in that circumstance?
3. Defense Holds Without Cernak
Sometimes it feels like the Lightning struggle to contain teams when they are without their shutdown pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak, but the blue line largely held its own tonight with Cernak out. They held the Stars to only 20 shots on goal, including only surrendering 10 through the first two periods before allowing Dallas to double their shot total in the third.
4. Point Continues His Hot Streak
As great as Nikita Kucherov is, we have to recognize that there are other stars on the team doing great things offensively right now, including Brayden Point.
Unsurprisingly, in the five games that Kucherov and Point have been back together we have seen Point record a goal or assist in all of them. Tonight, it was the power play goal fed to him by Kucherov (as seen above).
5. This Game Felt Familiar
The game scripts against the Dallas Stars, coached by former Lightning assistant Rick Bowness, never seem to change. They all feel, and usually are, slow defensive slogs that require each team to grind away at one another in a methodical defensive style before one team tries to close out a close victory in the end. We have seen Dallas play like this since the 2020 Stanley Cup and even though they are not the same team they were then; they still force us to play a tight game most matchups.
The Lightning will be traveling to the west coast this week for three games beginning with a matchup versus the LA Kings Tuesday night at 10:30PM EST.