It is hard to win a hockey game taking three penalties in the first 13 minutes, especially against a dangerous power play that can snap the puck around with ease.
That is exactly what the Dallas Stars did to open Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, digging themselves a hole too deep to climb out of and allowing the Tampa Bay Lightning to tie the series with two crucial power-play goals in a 3-2 win.
At 5-on-5, Dallas is outplaying Tampa Bay and may only have its lack of discipline to blame for not being up 2-0. Penalty trouble is finally hurting the Stars, who have taken by far the most minors this postseason and must fix the problem to keep their title hopes alive.
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Dallas has defied convention by committing so many penalties and reaching the final. The penalty kill led by goaltender Anton Khudobin deserves credit for that.
"Our PK has has had to do a job every game," forward Jason Dickinson said. "We take a lot of penalties in the playoffs."
Now 106 to be exact, 104 of them minors compared with 86 for Tampa Bay. The Stars got away with three penalties in quick succession in the third period of Game 1 because of Khudobin, but even that gave the Lightning a boost of confidence.
They didn't in Game 2.
Just 25 seconds after Joe Pavelski was whistled for tripping, Brayden Point scored on a perfect one-timer. When Jamie Oleksiak was called for holding, Ondrej Palat finished a perfect passing play and scored a goal Khudobin had almost no chance of stopping.
Tampa Bay's power play had been ice cold with a drought of 14 in a row and just one goal in its last 18. But from Victor Hedman up top to top-liners Point, Palat and Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn in front, there's too much talent on the Lightning power play to stay off the board for long.
Consider also that injured captain Steven Stamkos seems on the verge of returning. He hasn't played since February because of core muscle surgery and subsequent summer setbacks, but if his main purpose is simply to stand in the faceoff circle and fire one-timers, that makes the Lightning power play all the more dangerous.
"Immediately you're concerned with the impact he'll have on their power play," Stars coach Rick Bowness said. "He changes the whole look on the power play. So that's a big factor. We take three penalties like we did one period (Saturday) night, they're going to do some damage with Steven out there and his ability to one-time the puck."
And this series is building up some dislike quickly, which will only increase the penalty numbers in Game 3 on Wednesday night and beyond. After a heated scrum late in the second period Tuesday, there was no room for all three Lightning players to sit in the penalty box.
The box is a place the Stars want to avoid as much as possible the rest of the series. If they succeed and win it, they can take the Stanley Cup there to celebrate.