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Despite loss to Stars, Lightning like their defensive play

Though the loss is a tough pill to swallow, Tampa Bay has allowed just two regulation goals in its past three games.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) slides into goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) the as Dallas Stars' Roope Hintz collides with the goal during the third period of Tuesday's game in Dallas.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) slides into goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) the as Dallas Stars' Roope Hintz collides with the goal during the third period of Tuesday's game in Dallas. [ LM OTERO | AP ]
Published Apr. 13|Updated Apr. 13

DALLAS — The Lightning and Stars played more than 55 minutes Tuesday night before either team scored a goal. So, when Dallas forward Roope Hintz found a soft spot in the slot, took a feed from Joe Pavelski from behind the net and wristed a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy gloveside with just under five minutes remaining, the five Tampa Bay skaters on the ice stopped in their tracks.

The Lightning’s 1-0 loss at American Airlines Center was certainly a gut punch. A game that started sluggishly gradually took on a playoff feel, with Dallas clinging to the final postseason spot in the Western Conference and Tampa Bay with a chance to clinch an Eastern Conference berth with a win.

Ultimately, the Lightning know firsthand that defense wins championships. Over the past three games, they’ve allowed a total of just two goals in regulation, so they’re gradually improving their play in their own end. The frustrating part is that they have just three points over that span to show for it.

“That’s tough,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Sometimes that can be frustrating. If we’re gonna give up zero and one goal a game, I’ll take our chances. … We’ve given up two goals in 180 (regulation) minutes. It’s just unfortunate we’re not scoring, and that’s the tough part of it. I feel for the guys. They’re trying, (the puck) is just not going in right now.”

Related: 3 things we learned from Lightning’s loss to Stars

One game after scoring five goals in a win over the Sabres, the Lightning (44-21-8, 96 points), struggled to create scoring opportunities, especially in a second period that saw them get outshot 12-6. They had just two shots on goal in 5-on-5 play in the period and just 13 in all through two periods.

“I don’t think we did enough in 5-on-5,” Cooper said. “They defended well, just as we did, so you’ve got to put some pucks in some places (where) the goalie’s not there, and we just didn’t do it (Tuesday).”

Vasilevskiy withstood an early charge by the Stars, who had 25 shot attempts (12 on goal) in the second period. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, he turned away a rebound attempt from Hintz in front, but the puck slid out to Pavelski along the end boards. Pavelski dotted a pass to Hintz that Vasilevskiy (28 saves) couldn’t stop.

“It’s frustrating losing,” said Lightning forward Pat Maroon. “It’s kind of fun playing down the stretch in these games. They’re fighting to get in the playoffs, and we’re fighting to clinch in the playoffs. We’re playing playoff teams down the stretch. I thought the shot volume wasn’t there. We didn’t shoot enough pucks.

“We’re taking steps, we just need to win hockey games here.”

Early on, the Stars were willing to give the Lightning shots from the perimeter and collapsed on backup goaltender Scott Wedgewood by blocking shots and protecting the front of the net. Dallas, a team that also wins with defense, finished with 21 blocked shots.

The Lightning made a push in the third, firing 25 shots (12 on goal) after having just 29 (13 on goal) in the first two periods combined. The top scoring line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov was on the ice when Hintz scored but had its own scoring opportunities earlier in the period.

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Wedgewood denied Kucherov’s snap shot from the slot, then stretched to make a right pad save on Palat in front. Point charged the right post for a feed from Ryan McDonagh on the rush that was broken up by John Klingberg.

“We made it an easy night for him,” Maroon said of Wedgewood. “Not saying he didn’t play good. We didn’t make it hard on him. Towards the end there when he was scrambling there, that’s probably the most pressure we put on him. We’ve just got to get back to that. It’s just not overthinking it here. Just get pucks out and just kind of just get back to our game here and, you know, feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs here.”

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