TAMPA — Nearly six weeks and four rescheduled games later than originally planned, the Lightning finally met the Stars for the first time since last year’s Stanley Cup final.
The buzz of the rematch was lost by how deep the teams are into their seasons. The Stars were the only Central Division opponent the Lightning had yet to play going into Saturday night’s game at Amalie Arena. The game showed why the teams are heading in very different directions.
While the Stars set the tone early playing bullishly, determined to show the Lightning they hadn’t forgotten the events in Edmonton in September, it wasn’t long before the Lightning took control on the way to winning 5-0.
“It’s a different year,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “And as much as we want to make a storyline about it, once you get on the ice, it’s a game and both teams want to win. It’s just different teams going at it.
“But they’re still a really good team, and that history will always be there, but I thought we had a really solid game tonight against a good team.”
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy got his second straight shutout, recording 20 saves, as the Lightning (14-4-1) won their fourth straight.
The Lightning scored three second-period goals, including a shorthanded one by center Anthony Cirelli, who returned to the lineup after missing six games due to injury.
“(Cirelli) just makes us deeper,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s a top center in this league. So when we have a player of his caliber come back, it just slots everybody in some good spots. I thought he did really well. He gave our (penalty kill) a little boost there, too, getting that shorty.”
Last year’s Cup final was physical, and the Stars wanted to re-establish that early. Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and Lightning forward Pat Maroon dropped their gloves 6:51 into the game. Overall, Dallas didn’t pass up any attempt to throw in a push after the whistle.
“I thought the Maroon fight kind of — pardon the pun — brought us into the fight a little bit,” Cooper said. “As this game got going, so did our legs, and we did a lot of good things. It was just a good team effort and all the lines got involved. Our special teams were outstanding.”
Tampa Bay scored on both its power plays after the unit had struggled entering the night. Before Ondrej Palat’s goal put the Lightning up 1-0 with 6:42 left in the first, the Lightning had been 2-for-15 on the power play in their previous five games.
The Stars, who have just one win in their past nine games, couldn’t make anything of their early charge and were then sloppy with the puck and committed several turnovers that gifted the Lightning rushes.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” Stamkos said. “Obviously, the score probably didn’t indicate that tonight. But they pushed, and we responded. We had a couple turnovers early, then we corrected it and really made it tough on them to create much, and when they did, ‘Vasy’ was there. So I really liked our overall game tonight.”
Cirelli’s goal came 4:06 into the second period. Stamkos picked off a pass in the Lightning’s zone and passed to Cirelli as he skated through the neutral zone for a breakaway. Cirelli then beat goalie Anton Khudobin, flicking a backhand high into the net. Cirelli also assisted on Stamkos’ third-period goal, which made it 5-0.
“Obviously after missing a couple games there, just wanted to kind of get in and get my feet moving,” Cirelli said. “I thought it was a great game from the guys tonight. We played a full 60 (minutes).”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Palat 8, 13:18 (pp). Penalties—Maroon, TB (Fighting), 6:51; McDonagh, TB (Tripping), 6:51; Oleksiak, DAL (Fighting), 6:51; Robertson, DAL (Tripping), 13:15; Stamkos, TB (Slashing), 15:34.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 5 (Stamkos, Rutta), 4:06 (sh). 3, Tampa Bay, Point 7 (Johnson, Sergachev), 8:17. 4, Tampa Bay, Maroon 2 (Sergachev, Johnson), 15:12 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (Holding), 0:52; Gourde, TB (Hooking), 2:40; Klingberg, DAL (Tripping), 13:56.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 10 (Cirelli), 1:07. Penalties—Volkov, TB (Tripping), 2:34; Gourde, TB (Tripping), 12:11; Dickinson, DAL (Roughing), 17:37; Goodrow, TB (Roughing), 17:37.
Shots on Goal—Dallas 6-8-6_20. Tampa Bay 6-10-6_22. Power-play opportunities—Dallas 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 2 of 2. Goalies—Dallas, Khudobin 4-5-1 (17 shots-12 saves), Dallas, Oettinger 2-1-3 (5-5). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 12-3-1 (20-20). A—537 (19,092). T—2:18. Referees—Pierre Lambert, Justin St. Pierre. Linesmen—Travis Gawryletz, Dan Kelly.
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