The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered the zap in their power play, using it to burn the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday and even up the Stanley Cup final.
Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat had goals on the man advantage as the Lightning scored three times in the first 16 minutes of the game then hung on for the victory.
It ties the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place.
Tampa’s power play was ranked fifth in the NHL in the regular season at 23.1 per cent but in the playoffs, heading into Monday’s game, had been spluttering along at 16.9 per cent and mired in an 0 for 14 slump.
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Point said the success was not a huge relief because they hadn’t been dwelling on the previous power-play power outages.
“We’re staying positive with [it],” said Point.
“Tonight I thought we stuck with it. We were crisp on our passes and we had [Nikita Kucherov] making some great plays.”
Kucherov, the leading point getter in the playoffs, and defenceman Victor Hedman had the assists on both power-play goals.
Midway through the first period, Kucherov was the middle man in a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pass from Hedman and redirecting the puck into the slot area to Point, who then wristed it through traffic and high glove side past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin.
Three minutes later, on a second power play, Kucherov, at the right face-off circle, faked a one-timer shot off a Hedman pass, freezing Khudobin, and instead slap-passed it cross-seam to Palat, who had a wide open net and didn’t miss.
Less than a minute after that, Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a blue-line wrist shot through traffic that proved to be the game-winner.
It was a different story from Game 1, when Tampa got six minutes of power play time in the third period, blasted 22 shots on net but couldn’t score and lost 4-1.
Kucherov said they didn’t tinker with the power-play plan prior to Game 2.
“We had some good looks during the first game. We just couldn’t score,” said Kucherov.
“We just stuck to what we had to do: keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net and get those rebounds.”
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Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of-29 shots for his 15th victory of the playoffs, including the seeding round.
Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark, with his first of the playoffs, replied for Dallas. Khudobin turned aside 28 shots in the loss. His post-season record drops to 13-7.
Janmark said the penalties and the power-play goals proved to be a bridge too far.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Janmark.
“Most of the first period we didn’t come out like we wanted. I think they were better, so I would say they earned [the power plays].
“At the same time, we gotta be better. We were a little bit undisciplined. We were turning pucks over and they were coming at us.”
Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 14-6 in the first period but was outshot 18-5 in the second frame as the Stars found renewed life.
The Stars hit the scoreboard late in the period when a fluttering John Klingberg point shot was redirected in by Pavelski while he battled with defender Ryan McDonagh in front of Vasilevskiy.
Pavelski, signed as a free agent a year ago after 13 seasons with San Jose, has a team-leading 10 playoff goals.
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Less than six minutes into the third, the Stars made it 3-2 on a tic-tac-toe play of their own — Alexander Radulov to Klingberg to Janmark, who tapped the puck in despite Shattenkirk being draped all over him.
It was a rough game with big hits and numerous post-whistle scrums and takedowns.
Late in the second period, the Stars’ Corey Perry had Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle head lock. He released him at the direction of the refs only to see Paquette turn on him, throw him to the ice and start raining down punches.
Stars forward Blake Comeau was levelled by McDonagh on an open-ice hit in the second period and didn’t return.
Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in the playoffs. Hedman has nine goals and eight assists.
Tampa has 15 wins and six losses in the post-season and has yet to lose two games in a row.
The Lightning are seeking the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the last one coming in 2004. The Stars’ only Cup came in 1999.