Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop returns for the first time to the place where he became a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist when the inconsistent Stars visit the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. Bishop won a club-record 131 games in five seasons with the Lightning before being dealt to Los Angeles around the trade deadline last season and signing with Dallas in May after another deal.
“This is where I learned so much about hockey, how to become a starting goalie,” Bishop told reporters Wednesday. “I met my wife here. I got married here. It’s kind of like a second home, so there’s a lot of good memories here. It’s fun to be back.” The Stars need a big effort from Bishop (7-5-0, .908 save percentage), who has dropped three of his last four starts, after managing one point on the first two legs of their Southeast road trip. That won’t be easy against the NHL-best Lightning, who have won four in a row and own at least a point in six straight (5-0-1) after outscoring three California teams 12-4 on a perfect road trip. Captain Steven Stamkos leads the league with 31 points and linemate Nikita Kucherov boasts an NHL-high 16 goals for Tampa Bay, which averages a league-best 3.89 tallies.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Southwest (Dallas), FSN Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE STARS (9-8-1): Dallas has improved defensively after finishing second-to-last in the league in goals-against per game last season (3.17), standing 18th (2.83) through Tuesday, but has been up and down since a 5-3-0 start. Captain Jamie Benn has taken over the team lead with 19 points after posting three goals and two assists during a four-game point streak that included two tallies in the shootout loss at Florida on Tuesday. Defenseman John Klingberg is next with 18 points while Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, who boasts a nine-game point streak, have 17 apiece.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (14-2-2): Andrei Vasilevskiy, Bishop’s replacement in net, has warmed to the No. 1 role with a 13-1-1 record to go along with a .930 save percentage this season and earned at least a point in his last 13 starts (12-0-1). The top-six defensemen have been intact all season in front of Vasilevskiy as Victor Hedman leads the blueliners with 13 points and the steady Anton Stralman boasts a team-best plus-13 rating. Vladislav Namestnikov has produced 19 points playing alongside Stamkos and Kucherov after finishing with 28 in 74 games in 2016-17.
1. The Stars lead the league in power-play percentage (30.2) and Tampa Bay is second at 28.6.
2. Dallas F Jason Dickinson, who has zero points in four games this season, was reassigned to Texas of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.
3. The teams split a pair of games last season with each winning at home and they combined for 16 goals.
PREDICTION: Lightning 4, Stars 2