DALLAS — Big Ben stood tall in Big D.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop kept his cool despite seeing plenty of Stars around his crease trying to deliver knockout blows, but instead the netminder finished with 39 saves as Tampa Bay knocked off Dallas 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 15,897 at American Airlines Center.
The Lightning won for just the third time in the past eight games while improving to 17-14-2 on the road.
Marty St. Louis scored twice for his second consecutive two-goal game while Nate Thompson and Sami Salo also scored for Tampa Bay. Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat all added a pair of assists. Kari Lehtonen finished with 17 saves for Dallas, which received goals from Antoine Roussel and Verne Fiddler.
For good portions of Saturday’s game Bishop was bumped into, brushed by and often knocked over by Dallas skaters trying to create havoc in front of the 6-foot-7 netminder. Through it all he maintained his composure and refused to be rattled by all the traffic around his cage.
“I thought today was probably one of the worst of the year (getting bumped into) but that’s just how a couple of their guys play so you cant do much about it,’’ Bishop said. “It’s not necessarily a big deal, just as long as they don’t count the goals’’ when interfered with.
For much of the game, it felt a little like deja vu as Tampa Bay built a two-goal lead in the first period and then fell back into their defensive zone for extended periods of time back on their heels, seeing the ice tilt after building a two-goal lead.
Just like the previous game in Nashville, St. Louis put the Lightning on the board early as he drove the net to redirect a pass from Eric Brewer past Lehtonen just 1:25 into the game. And just as in Nashville, that lead increased to two goals when Thompson was able to get a stick on a Hedman shot from the left point and deflect the puck past Lehtonen at 12:09 of the first period.
Then, just like Thursday, the Lightning expended too much energy in the defensive zone, playing a game of survival mode, unable to sustain offensive zone time leading to dump and change mentality. But Bishop was able to keep the snuff out the Stars’ attack despite being under siege as Tampa Bay went over 12 minutes without a shot on goal.
“Clearly we were under siege the second half of that second period,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But I thought our goalie stood tall, guys committed to blocking shots and getting pucks out.’’
Against the run of play, Tampa Bay was able to build on the lead when St. Louis cashed in after being sprung for a breakaway by Palat, coming down the right wing side with speed and putting his second goal of the game past Lehtonen at 14:31 of the second period for a 3-0 lead. The shot was the first for the Lightning in the span of 12 minutes, one second.
“We score that third goal, and they deserved to win that second period, but that third goal, we are able to make it 3-0, and it gave us a little more room to breathe,’’ St. Louis said. “Still would like us to play better in the second periods. We seem to be running around a little bit in the second period. Collectively we’ve got to manage that period better.’’
The Lightning continued to spend time defending when Dallas caught a fortunate bounce to get on the board when a pass across the top of the slot from Kevin Connauton hit the stick of Roussel before deflecting off the skate of Mike Kostka and past Bishop at 15:50. Then, with the Stars continuing to buzz, Fiddler took a puck alone behind the net, came around the post and hesitated before beating Bishop shortside with 1:49 left to play in the period to cut the lead to 3-2, pulling Dallas to within a goal after dominating the second period after attempting 41 shots (18 on goal, 14 missed and nine blocked).
After the Lightning were able to kill off an early third period power play, a savvy play by Salo allowed Tampa Bay to regain the two-goal lead and take some of the wind out of Dallas’ sails. Off a faceoff just outside the Dallas blue line, Salo sneaked into an open lane on a set play to take a pass from Hedman before blasting a slap shot past Lehtonen at 7:12 for his second goal of the season to provide Bishop with an insurance goal.
“It was a play that we’ve done sometimes and it just worked out today,’’ Salo said. “But Ben was simply awesome, that’s how he’s been the whole year, carrying it for us and that’s what we need. That’s what good teams need is for your goaltender to be your best player.’’