TAMPA — There wasn’t a question in Ross Colton’s mind about what he should do when he saw Nikita Kucherov collect the puck about halfway through the third period against the Stars.
The teams had been tied for more than 30 minutes. But Kucherov can change any circumstance with his playmaking abilities, and this time it led the Lightning to a 3-1 win Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
With 9:25 remaining in regulation, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made a save on Dallas defenseman Jani Hakanpaa with his right pad, which sent the puck toward Kucherov, who was standing just outside the faceoff circle.
In one move, Kucherov grabbed the puck and flung it up the ice through a pair of Dallas players. The puck landed on Colton’s stick. The forward raced down the slot and made a move on Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin for a 2-1 lead.
“It was a sick pass, and with distance, too, and (Kucherov) had to thread the needle between two guys,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But don’t forget the finish. It was a big-time finish as well.”
Colton, who got his fifth goal of the season, said he was expecting the pass once he saw the play start to develop.
“I knew if I found an open area, (Kucherov) was going to put it on my stick,” Colton said. “He put it in a gift wrap for me.”
The Lightning (26-9-5) knew they would see a motivated Stars team following Dallas’ 7-1 loss to the Panthers on Friday.
Dallas, which entered on a six-game road losing streak, put up a fight. .
“They pushed for sure at the start,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games with a lower-body injury. “Once we kind of got our forechecking game going and grinded out some long shifts there, we kind of slowly took over, I thought.”
The first 14 minutes of the game were quiet.
Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell opened the scoring with 6:12 left in the first period on a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that slipped past Vasilevskiy.
A cross-checking penalty against Stars defenseman Ryan Suter with 2:02 remaining gave the Lightning a chance to tie.
With 14 seconds remaining in the period, defenseman Victor Hedman took a shot from the point that hit the boards and rebounded just outside the crease. Kucherov collected the rebound and found forward Brayden Point at the bottom of the slot, and Point sent a quick shot past Khudobin for a power-play goal.
Khudobin was making just his second NHL appearance since Nov. 18.
It was Point’s 15th goal of the season, tying Ondrej Palat for second on the team behind Steven Stamkos (18).
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Palat missed his third straight game with an injury.
Colton’s goal gave the Lightning their first lead of the game, and forward Alex Killorn added an empty-netter with 40 seconds.
“I thought especially those first two periods, we were pretty strong defensively,” Cooper said. “(The Stars) defended well. Their sticks were on pucks. … But a little push in the third was obviously huge.”
• • •
The Tampa Bay Times has commemorated the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Order now.
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.