EDMONTON, Alberta — Another slow start doomed the Dallas Stars.
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final slipped away from the Western Conference champions in a hurry Wednesday night, with a suddenly vulnerable Anton Khudobin allowing two early goals and the Tampa Bay Lightning once again showing how difficult it is play catchup against them in a 5-2 victory.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored in the first seven minutes for Tampa Bay, which was just was getting started. A trio of goals in the second period built the lead to 5-1, ending an ugly night for Khudobin.
”They made two good shots early,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. ”They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t.”
The Stars also started slowly in Game 2, yielding three first-period goals – two of them on the power play – on the way to a 3-2 loss.
Now, they’re facing a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Friday night.
”We’ve got to regroup,” said Stars forward Jason Dickinson, who had a short-handed goal in the opening period.
”It’s 2-1. They’re up one,” defenseman John Klingberg said. ”We’re going to even the series on Friday.”
While Khudobin is one of the biggest reasons Dallas is back in the Final for the first time in 20 years, he hasn’t been at this best since winning Game 1.
He stopped just 24 of 29 shots in two periods Wednesday night. Over the last two games, he’s yielded eight goals in 60 shots.
With the Stars trailing by four goals and the teams set to play the next two games of the series on consecutive nights, coach Rick Bowness pulled Khodobin after the second period. Jake Oettinger finished up, stopping the only three shots he faced.
”The kid has battled so hard the whole playoffs, so I just gave him a breather. Back to back coming up, give (Oettinger) some more experience, but more just to give Dobie a break,” Bowness said of the move.
”Listen, he’s been a rock for us back there. We don’t get here without him,” the coach added. ”No one gets to the Final without great goaltending.”
Khodobin wasn’t alone in having an off night.
Defenseman Miro Heiskanen made an uncharacteristic mistake, turning the puck over in his own zone on Tampa Bay’s first goal. Bad penalties were a problem, too, with one of them leading to Victor Hedman‘s powerplay goal that put the Lightning up 3-1 less than a minute into the second period.
It was all Tampa Bay after that.
”We lost our team play, we lost our intensity and we lost our focus,” Bowness said. ”When you do that, a team like that is going to make you look real bad, which they did.”