|Stars, Lightning finally set for Cup rematch|
After a few interruptions on the schedule, a rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final will finally take place this weekend when the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning meet in Tampa on Saturday.
The Stars postponed all four games in Florida against the Panthers and Lightning before the season's opener due to a COVID-19 outbreak in camp.
Also, they had home matches against Tampa Bay postponed last week because of the freezing temperatures that blanketed Texas and created dangerous conditions.
The struggling Stars will at least be riding a hot goaltender in Anton Khudobin, who shut out the Florida Panthers with 43 saves Wednesday to break Dallas' six-game winless streak (0-3-3).
Khudobin, 34, matched a career high with 49 saves in Florida's 3-1 win on Monday, then he turned around Wednesday and notched his third career shutout of the Panthers in nine starts.
He opened the regular season with a 34-save blanking of the Nashville Predators for his 100th career win on Jan. 22.
In his past two starts, Khudobin (4-4-1) has stopped 92 of 94 shots to bring his goals-against average down to 2.35 per game and increase his save percentage to .928.
"He played great tonight, he played great the other night," Bowness said after Khudobin's 10th career shutout. "We were still in the game because of Anton. He's been very good both nights."
Despite the standout play of the Kazakhstani goalie, Dallas has posted a 1-4-3 mark in its past eight games after dropping two of three in South Florida to the Central Division-leading Panthers.
On Thursday against backup Jake Oettinger, Florida put three goals past the rookie backstop in a span of 3:11 late in the third period to erase Dallas' two-goal lead and send the visitors packing up Florida's west coast with a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat.
"We had plenty of chances but didn't get (the third goal)," Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. "We just sat back. That's why they're in first place and we're battling to get back in it."
Tampa Bay, which claimed its second Stanley Cup in six games over Dallas in October, has regained its footing and won three consecutive games, wrapping up a four-game set with a 3-1 victory Thursday over the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the offense has slipped some, goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney, plus a strong defensive corps, backstopped the club and protected the net in winning three of four against Carolina.
After the Lightning went through a recent 1-3-0 stretch, Vasilevskiy (11-3-1, 1.87 goals against, .935 save percentage) notched his 22nd career shutout in a 3-0 win Wednesday, and McElhinney stopped 31 of 32 shots in the finale.
McElhinney made 33 starts and posted a 20-11-2 record in 2018-19 with the Hurricanes -- his most recent former club.
In his previous start, McElhinney allowed six goals to the Panthers on just 21 shots. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said McElhinney's performance Thursday was an outstanding turnaround.
"He should've been stars 1, 2 and 3 (of the game)," Cooper of the 37-year-old London, Ontario, Canada, native.
On the injury front, rugged defenseman Erik Cernak played just 13 shifts and 8:24 of ice time on Thursday after getting hurt in the second period and didn't play at all in the third.
--Field Level Media