Victor Hedman had a goal and two assists and Steven Stamkos scored in his season debut as the Tampa Bay Lightning routed the Dallas Stars 5-2 in game three of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday.
Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point all had a goal and an assist for the Lightning who took a 2-1 series lead despite Stamkos not being able to play the whole game because of a nagging injury.
“I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is and to be part of it is a dream come true,” said Stamkos.
“There is an issue I have been working through. I was extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute.”
The heavily-favoured Lightning dominated Wednesday’s contest and can now take a commanding 3-1 lead with a victory in game four on Friday in the NHL’s quarantine bubble in Edmonton, Alberta.
Lightning captain Stamkos had surgery to repair a core muscle on March 2 and was supposed to miss six to eight weeks but incurred multiple setbacks in his recovery.
He didn’t make his return until Wednesday night and scored in just his third shift of the game but seemed to re-aggravate the injury and did not play much after his first period goal.
“He only had five shifts but it is probably as efficient of five shifts as you are ever going to see,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper.
Jason Dickinson and Miro Heiskanen scored goals and Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger combined to make 27 saves for the Stars.
Palat played one of his best games of the playoffs, contributing on both offence and defence.
On the opening goal, just 5:33 into the game, Palat forced Stars defenceman Heiskanen to turn the puck over at the Dallas blueline and Kucherov seized it and scored on a breakaway.
Just over a minute later, Stamkos made it 2-0 scoring in just his third shift. Stamkos took a pass from Hedman in full flight, then slipped a check from Esa Lindell near the blueline. The Canadian forward raced down the wing before cutting to the net and beating Khudobin with a high wrist shot to the top corner.
Dickinson scored a shorthanded goal to cut the Lightning lead to 2-1 halfway through the first.
He hammered a one-timer on a pass from Roope Hintz after the Lightning failed to get the puck out of their own end twice. It was his second goal of the playoffs.
Tampa scored three unanswered goals and outshot Dallas 21-4 in the second period to break the game open.
Palat capped the scoring with 65 seconds left in the second by jamming a rebound past Khudobin during a scramble in front of the net.
His goal made it 5-1 and led to Dallas pulling Khudobin and replacing him with Oettinger.
Palat scored almost seven minutes after Point made it 4-1 with Point’s 11th goal of the playoffs.
Headman got the second period scoring started on the powerplay just 54 seconds in.
Heiskanen scored in the third period for Dallas to make it 5-2.
The Stars are having trouble scoring, especially their top line which is anchored by captain Jamie Benn.
“They’ve got to figure it out,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness.