TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Defenseman Erik Cernak had a goal and two assists to help the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 6-2 on Wednesday night.
Defending champion Tampa Bay has won six of the seven meetings this season between the 2020 Stanley Cup finalists. The teams will meet again Friday night in Tampa.
The Stars remained alive for the fourth and final spot in the Central Division after Nashville’s loss in Columbus. Dallas is four points back with three games remaining.
“We understand we need to win and we need help,’’ Dallas forward Joe Pavelski said. “We have to win our next game and focus from there and see what happens. That’s the biggest thing. We have to have the narrow focus, have to win a game and go from there. We’re not going to get all three at once, so focus on the first one.’’
Andrei Vasileskiy finished with 20 saves for Tampa Bay to pick up his 31st victory of the season.
Brayden Point and Alex Killorn each had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay. Ross Colton, Mikhail Sergachev and Tyler Johnson also scored for Tampa Bay. The Lightning are 6-0-1 in their past seven to move into a tie for second place in the Central Division with Florida. The Lightning have played one fewer game.
“That was a team that was hungry and desperate,’’ Killorn said. “Didn’t seem to be a ton of offense out there, I don’t think we gave up a ton and looking at our goals I think we were pretty opportunistic . . . So I’m pretty happy with the way found a way to win tonight.’’
Jake Oettinger finished with 14 saves for the Stars. Andrej Sekera and Tyler Seguin scored for Dallas. The Stars are 0-3-2 in their past five games.
“We’re very frustrated,’’ Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. “Guys were really upset at the end of the game. because they know we played better than that, so it gets frustrating. You put that aside and we talked after the game. We’re still in it, we have a game Friday night, that’s our game in hand and we have to win it.’’
Johnson put Tampa Bay in front 2:14 into the game after Killorn’s pass attempt deflected right to Johnson in the slot where snapped a wrist shot past Oettinger for his eight goal of the season.
Seguin, in just his second game back from offseason hip surgery, scored his second in two games, finishing off a pass from Joe Pavelski with 26.2 seconds left in the period.
“What (Seguin is) doing is showing you how much we’ve missed him this whole year,’’ Bowness said. “Had we had him all year, we’re not sitting where we are, no question. That’s how big of an impact he has on our team.’’
Killorn regained the lead for Tampa Bay at 16:39 of the second period with a backdoor tap in from a Yanni Gourde. Point made it 3-1 with 13.8 seconds left when he stripped Esa Lindell of the puck deep in the Dallas zone and cut around a poke check attempt by Oettinger for his 23rd of the season.
Sekera cut the lead to 3-2 with one-timer at 10:44 but Cernak answered 50 seconds later.
“That’s a huge goal with (Gourde’s) line being out there and Cernak with the shot,’’ Johnson said. “You need that and they were able to deliver.’’
Colton and Sergachev added empty net goals to finish the scoring.
STAMKOS, KUCHEROV EYE A RETURN
Tampa Bay held a full team practice Tuesday that included the return of captain Steven Stamkos, out since April 8 with a lower-body injury, to the ice for the first time in nearly a month along with former league MVP Nikita Kucherov, who has missed the entire regular season following hip surgery.
With the Lightning ending the regular season Monday, neither are expected to appear until the playoffs begin.
“Four games in six nights, it would be tough,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said regarding the team’s final four games of the regular season. “The big thing for these guys is getting their stamina. That’s what they need.’’