Brad Richards was never part of any wins when the Dallas Stars would visit Tampa Bay to play the Lightning. He still isn't.
Vincent Lecavalier spoiled his old buddy Richards' homecoming, scoring twice and adding an assist in Tampa Bay's stunning 4-2 come-from-behind win over Dallas on Monday night at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was the first time since 1996 -- two years before the Lightning drafted Richards -- that Tampa Bay was able to down the Stars on home ice, a span that consisted of eight consecutive losses.
This one was particularly ugly, as another poor showing in the third period doomed the Stars. After building a slim 2-1 advantage following 40 minutes of play, Dallas allowed the Lightning to score twice in a 3:08 span late in the third to wrestle the game away.
Vaclav Prospal capped the victory for Tampa Bay by adding an empty-net goal with 49 seconds left.
It was third straight game that Dallas wasn't able to hold on to a third-period lead. The previous two times they were at least able to garner three points.
"We need to figure out our third period play, and quick," goalie Marty Turco said. "We are too inconsistent in locking down games. I think the theme of it all is we're not executing and making enough plays, and it's something that needs to be addressed."
The Lightning were handed just a pair of man advantages overall, but made the Stars pay on their second one when Lecavalier blasted a one-timer from the top of the right circle that whizzed past Turco to give Tampa Bay its first lead of the game, 3-2, with 5:06 left in regulation.
"We let them hang around and they obviously have enough firepower to hurt you," Richards added.
Former Stars goalie Mike Smith made 23 saves against his old team. Along with Richards, Smith was part of the five-player deadline deal consummated last February that also included Jeff Halpern, Jussi Jokinen and Johan Holmqvist.
Richards scored once and added an assist for the Stars, who lost for the first time in regulation since Jan. 8 against Detroit, a stretch of five games. It was his first trip back to Tampa Bay, and he received an impressive cheer from his old fans before the emotional affair.
"I had fun out there until five minutes left in the third," Richards said. "I wanted to win this one, but we let it slip away."
Richards was able to calm his nerves and anxiety by scoring just under two minutes into the game. His goal came 20 seconds after Lecavalier gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 1:33 into the contest with a shorthanded goal.
"He played unbelievable tonight," Lecavalier said about his former teammate Richards. "He can score goals and make plays."
So can Lecavalier, who's persevered through plenty of trade rumors over the last couple of weeks. The big center helped Tampa Bay take over the game after the Lightning successfully killed off six straight Dallas power plays during the first 33 minutes of the game.
"We took advantage of our power plays and we went from there," Lecavalier said.
Loui Eriksson scored the other goal for the Stars, who dropped to 11-2-2 all-time in Tampa Bay. Turco made 16 stops.
The Stars missed a golden opportunity to climb closer to the final Western Conference playoff slot, as three of the teams that they are chasing were idle on Monday. Instead, they remain four points out of the last postseason berth.
"We didn't capitalize on golden opportunities and we just let this slip away," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "We have to be consistent every night and start building something here. That was not Dallas Stars hockey. We have to keep pushing and playing smart. We always let them stay around the game, and this is a dangerous team who can make you pay."
Dallas had plenty of opportunities to put the game away, especially when they enjoyed four power plays in the first period. But they were only able to generate four shots during those man advantages, squandering a chance to play with a bigger lead.
"If you get that many power plays and don't score, it's going to come back to haunt you," coach Dave Tippett said. "They capitalized and we didn't, and we got beat in some situations that ended up in our net. We are not getting the job done. You have to get the job done."
Rookie Steven Stamkos also scored for the Lighting, who've won four of their last six.
With the Stars up 2-1 after two periods, Stamkos tied it with his sixth of the year with 8:16 to go. The 18-year-old capped a slick tic-tac-toe passing play in tight that began with a Jokinen pass from behind the net after Turco lost his stick.
Eriksson scored his team-leading 22nd of the season four minutes into the second period to give Dallas a 2-1 edge. Richards started this one with some hard wok at the Dallas blue line, shoving the puck to Mike Modano at the red line after outbattling Tampa Bay defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Modano and Eriksson did the rest on a 2-on-1, with Eriksson converting Modano's pass for his first goal in five games.
Lecavalier opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal just 93 seconds into the contest. The Tampa Bay captain picked up a loose puck at the Lighting blue line after it jumped over Steve Ott's stick and bore down on Turco on a breakaway before slipping a wrist shot in between Turco's pads.
"I got pretty lucky actually," Lecavalier said. "I was pretty much alone from our blue line and saw the opening between his legs. I shot it and it went in"
Richards tied it 20 seconds later on the power play with his 12th of the season. After lugging the puck into the Lightning zone on the right wing, Richards lost control of the puck before regaining it after Mark Parrish bunted it back to him at the top of the right circle. Richards swooped in on Smith and lifted the puck over the goalie's right shoulder to make it 1-1.
Dallas will play its final game before the All-Star break on Wednesday when it faces the Florida Panthers (6:30, my27). The Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the league despite losing in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. The Panthers sport a 5-0-3 mark in their last eight contests.
--Lecavalier's first goal was the first short-handed tally allowed by Dallas this season.
--Defenseman Andrew Hutchinson played two games for the Lightning earlier this season.
--Eriksson has two goals in eight games this month.
--The Stars weren't whistled for their first penalty until three minutes remained in the second period.
--Dallas lost for the first time in regulation when leading after two periods (13-1-2).
--The Stars dropped to 8-12-3 on the road.
--Jere Lehtinen and Richards each recorded a team-high five shots.
Martin St. Louis