Lightning blank Stars for third shutout in past four games

By Eduardo A. Encina
Tampa Bay Times/TNS

TAMPA, Fla. - In the absence of playmaking forward Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning power play has been a work in progress. But after some tinkering and early-season struggles, they seem to have the right players in the right spot.

That includes placing forward Ondrej Palat in the right circle. His team-high sixth power-play goal of the season got the Lightning going in their 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars Tuesday in a rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Final.

Combine that with another sparkling performance by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who withstood several Dallas charges, and the Lightning (15-4-1) have won five straight - the longest active streak in the NHL - to move into a tie with Carolina for first place in the Central Division.

Vasilevskiy (13-3-1) stopped all 28 shots he faced to record his third consecutive shutout and the Lightning’s third in four games.

Yanni Gourde added an empty-net goal for the Lightning with five seconds remaining.

For the second straight game - both against Dallas - Palat scored the opening goal. Both came early into a Tampa Bay power play. After going just 2 for 15 with the man advantage over a five-game stretch, Palat’s opening goal Tuesday marked the Lightning’s third straight power-play goal over the past two games.

Palat has received many more scoring opportunities on the power play since moving to the right circle on the first unit.

Teams have to focus on Steven Stamkos’ shot from the left circle, they can’t let Brayden Point see light in the slot, and Victor Hedman is always a threat at the point. That often leaves Palat as the open man, and that was the case Tuesday.

Just into Tampa Bay’s first power-play opportunity, Palat put a shot on goal, and it rimmed out to Stamkos at the left circle, drawing the Dallas defense his way. Stamkos passed to Hedman at the point, who bluffed a slap shot and instead tapped a pass over to Palat. Palat had a wide-open look and launched a one-timer past Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin 7:29 into the first period.

The difference in the Lightning’s 5-0 win over Dallas Saturday in Tampa was special teams. Tampa Bay had two power-play goals and was 6 for 6 on the penalty kill.

That was the case again Tuesday as the games shifted to Dallas. Tampa Bay killed all three penalties and has now killed 17 straight and 27 of its past 28.

The Lightning still lived dangerously, allowing the Stars to spend far too much time in the Tampa Bay zone, and leaving Vasilevskiy on his own.

Vasilevskiy, who was coming off two straight shutout wins and entered the night having not allowed a goal in seven straight periods, turned away Jamie Oleksiak on a three-on-one rush just 37 seconds into the game.

In the final minutes of the first period, Andrew Cogliano had the puck in front of the net, but Vasilevskiy stopped him from point-blank range. In the second period, Stars captain Jamie Benn hit the far post on a wrister from the right circle.

Hedman, whose assist on Palat’s goal gave him 20 points this season - second among NHL defensemen - hit the post on a slap shot during the Lightning’s second power play in the second period.