Most of the time, hockey teams welcome the challenge an opponent brings. Sometimes, though, one player has to step up and drag his team into battle.
Antoine Roussel did just that Saturday night, notching his first career hat trick in a 4-3 Dallas Stars overtime victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Roussel’s performance, “One of those rare games. I was actually hoping that when I threw him out there in overtime, he would get the fourth because he’s a guy that you have to love. He just works extremely hard shift in and shift out.”
Tyler Seguin, who centered a line with Roussel and Patrick Sharp on his wings, assisted on all three of the Frenchman’s goals. When asked about tallying three assists, Seguin joked, “I thought I got him three goals.” The center then praised his linemate, saying, “He was in the right place at the right time. He always works hard, always goes to the net hard and he got rewarded for it tonight.”
After a first period in which the Lightning quickly acclimated themselves to the ice after six days off, the visitors out-shot the Stars over the remainder of the game. In the end, though, they suffered the same fate as the majority of clubs coming off their NHLPA-mandated bye week.
“I am not going to sit here and dwell on whether or not we should’ve won that game, you know what happened,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’ve pointed in five straight. At some point we have to get two instead of just one, but I can’t say the guys didn’t leave it all out there. You look at all of the teams coming out of the break and not winning, I thought we gave ourselves every chance to win the game.”
Center Tyler Johnson, who returned to action after missing two games before the bye week with a lower-body injury, blamed turnovers for the loss.
“Overall I thought we played a good game,” said Johnson. “Obviously having a two-goal and then a one-goal lead and giving that up is unacceptable, but it is all about turnovers…They are a good transition team, a team that has a lot of offense and can score some goals, and quite frankly turnovers killed us.”
Indeed, it was a turnover in the Stars’ zone by Lightning center Valtteri Filppula that led directly to Jamie Benn’s overtime game-winning snipe.
Dramatic overtime win and hat trick aside, perhaps the most important event of the night was the return of play-by-play announcer Dave Strader to the air. Strader, who’s been absent while battling an aggressive form of cancer, worked his first game of the season Saturday.
Dave Strader after game: “This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all.”
— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) February 19, 2017
The Stars now have a five-day break before hosting the Arizona Coyotes next Friday, while the Lightning jet to Colorado for a game against the Avalanche Sunday.
Though his club jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Coach Cooper wasn’t thrilled with the opening 20 minutes.
“The first period, I think the game was a little fast,” said the coach. “Ultimately, when you take five days off, and I am sure it is the same with all teams, the other team is buzzing around, they are in game mode. We were probably a little bit in vacation mode.”
It was Cooper’s Lightning who got off to a fast start, as defenseman Victor Hedman opened the scoring three minutes in, driving home the rebound of rookie Jake Dotchin’s shot from the blue line.
The Lightning had a chance to extend their lead less than a minute later, but the rebound of a shot from Johnson eluded his linemate. Soon after, the visitors were whistled for too many men, but killed the penalty.
With just under nine minutes played, in a moment emblematic of the Stars’ frustrating season, Jamie Benn raced toward the Bolts’ net but sent the puck off the post. The stress continued to mount as Esa Lindell was boxed for high-sticking two minutes later.
1:19 into the power play, Johnson scored off the rush, tucking home a nifty pass from Brayden Point to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, Roussel scored his first goal of the night, swatting the puck out of midair while standing with his back to the net.
Late in the period, the feisty Frenchman struck again, tipping in a pass from Seguin off the rush to tie the game. The Stars led 11-7 in shots after 20 minutes.
The Bolts began the middle frame slowly, registering only three shots on goal in the first nine minutes. Their fourth shot of the period came on the power play and Hedman made it count, firing home a low wrister from the top of the slot to give his team a 3-2 lead.
The Stars counterattacked on the next shift, working hard in the offensive zone and drawing a penalty. The ensuing power play was not only ineffective, but almost disastrous as well: Defenseman John Klingberg made a pass that was intercepted at center ice by Johnson, who raced in and put the puck on net, forcing Kari Lehtonen to make the save.
Trying to pad their lead, the visitors applied pressure throughout the back half of the period. The Lightning out-shot their hosts 15-8 in the second, but their best chance came on a point-blank shot by J.T. Brown with six seconds left, which was smothered by Lehtonen.
Roussel cemented his first career hat trick 4:40 into the third period, ripping a shot from the left circle while using Lightning defender Andrej Sustr to screen goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
For the next 10 minutes or so, the Stars leaned on their netminder, and the big Finn proved equal to the task. Near the midpoint of the period, a turnover at the blue line forced Lehtonen to make two close-in stops on Brian Boyle.
With 8:30 remaining on the clock, Stars forward Adam Cracknell went down along the boards after Johnson fell awkwardly into him. Cracknell was helped off the ice, in obvious pain and not putting any weight on his right leg. After the game, Ruff said the journeyman forward would probably miss three-to-six weeks.
The Lightning continued to press, but Lehtonen turned aside every chance.
“I thought Kari played very well,” said Ruff after the game. “If it wasn’t for some of those saves in the third period and overtime, we don’t have a chance to win the game.”
The two teams traded shots in the final minute without result. The shots were 11-8 Tampa Bay for the period.
The Bolts dominated possession in overtime, holding the puck in the Stars’ zone and forcing Lehtonen to make four saves in a little over three minutes of non-stop 3-on-3 action. Suddenly, Jamie Benn stripped the puck from the onrushing Filppula and headed up the ice.
Crossing the Lightning blue line, Benn dished the puck to Cody Eakin. The Stars forwards then crossed paths, with Eakin leaving the puck for Benn, who quickly fired it past Vasilevskiy to win the game.
TBL – Victor Hedman (9) assisted by Brian Boyle (8) and Jake Dotchin (3)
TBL – Tyler Johnson (17) (PP) assisted by Brayden Point (14) and Victor Hedman (37)
DAL – Antoine Roussel (9) assisted by Dan Hamhuis (13) and Tyler Seguin (36)
DAL – Antoine Roussel (10) assisted by Tyler Seguin (37) and Patrick Eaves (16)
TBL – Victor Hedman (10) (PP) assisted by Tyler Johnson (18) and Ondrej Palat (17)
DAL – Antoine Roussel (11) assisted by Tyler Seguin (38) and Patrick Sharp (7)
DAL – Jamie Benn (20) assisted by Cody Eakin (7)
THW Three Stars
First: Dave Strader (1st broadcast of the season)
Second: Antoine Roussel (3 goals)
Third: Victor Hedman (2 goals, 1 assist)
Arizona Coyotes at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:30 p.m. CST on Friday, Feb. 24
Broadcast channels: FS-SW+, FS-A PLUS
2016-17 Season Series: Dec. 27 – Stars 3, Coyotes 2
Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche
Pepsi Center – 8:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 19
Broadcast channels: ALT, SUN
2016-17 Season Series: Oct. 20 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 0