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Stars’ defense creating problems for Lightning in Stanley Cup final

Tampa Bay has a potent offense, but it didn’t get many opportunities against Dallas in Game 1.
Anthony Cirelli of the Lightning takes a shot on Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars as Miro Heiskanen defends during the third period of Game 1.
Anthony Cirelli of the Lightning takes a shot on Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars as Miro Heiskanen defends during the third period of Game 1. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 20, 2020
Updated Sep. 21, 2020

The Stars present the Lightning with a kind of challenge they haven’t seen in a while. Dallas brings a strong defensive style of play with some potent offensive weapons to the Stanley Cup final.

Tampa Bay also faced a strong defensive team in the Eastern Conference final, but Dallas does it differently.

“We played an Islanders team that kind of sat back and relied on their structure a little bit,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “Dallas seems to play a little bit more in our faces, and we have to realize that.”

Related: Some unlikely players are stepping up as new Stars in the quest for the Stanley Cup

The Lightning trail the Stars in the Cup final heading into Game 2 tonight at Edmonton.

In their 4-1 Game 1 win Saturday, the Stars were waiting for the Lightning at the blue line and then pressured the defensemen trying to get involved in the play.

Center Yanni Gourde pointed out the Stars' “good gap” — the space the defensemen leave so they can read a play and also be ready to turn around and skate, if needed — saying they were right on top of the Lightning.

“Dallas was in our face on the blue lines,” center Tyler Johnson said. “The first two periods, we were kind of forcing a little bit too much, trying to make those entry passes where … I think our recipe is getting (the puck) deep and working.”

The Lightning got off to such a bad start that coach Jon Cooper questioned after the game whether they even needed to shower after the first two periods.

Stars center Jason Dickinson said Sunday the Lightning’s frustration showed in their slumped shoulders and slammed doors. He didn’t comment on forward Pat Maroon shooting the puck into their bench at the end of the second period, but it falls in the same category.

“Is our goal to frustrate them? No,” Dickinson said. “Our goal is to stop them from creating (scoring) chances, and frustrating them is just an effect of that. Obviously, it’s going to have an impact on their mentality and morale, but we’re just going out there trying to play our game.”

That’s where the short memory that Cooper often refers to comes into play.

The Lightning have watched video of the game, they’ve gone over their too many errors and what they need to do better, but they can’t dwell on the frustration.

“We all know we’re capable of playing better and executing passes and playing a skating game much more so than we did in Game 1,” wing Blake Coleman said.

The Lightning haven’t lost consecutive games this postseason.

Related: Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman are up for awards on Monday, and it's an annual occurrence

Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness was an assistant with the Lightning for five years, from 2013-18. He has experience with most of their roster and coaches.

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He pointed out the Lightning’s skill and the chemistry that comes from a core that has been together for about seven years, adding pieces as they go. He called them fun to watch and hard to coach against.

“All you can do against elite players like that is try to minimize the damage,” Bowness said. “Try to keep them on the outside as much as you can and pressure them as much as you can all over the ice so they don’t have a lot of time.”

On Saturday, Dallas did keep Tampa Bay to the outside. Its pressure in the defensive zone limited Tampa Bay’s scoring chances. Even as the Lightning racked up shots, most were from above the circles or outside the dots, not quality inside looks.

“(The Stars are) a good defensive team; they have been for a couple of years now,” Cooper said. “Basically, they defend well, they get in lanes, and they make it hard on you. When you do get your opportunities, you have to capitalize.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos