Lightning blast Stars to take 2-1 finals lead

Steven Stamkos scored in his brief return while Victor Hedman collected one goal and two assists to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars Wednesday in Edmonton and edge ahead in the Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 and will look to take a stranglehold when they hit the ice for Game 4 on Friday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves for Tampa Bay, which had a trio of star players — Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat — collect one goal and one assist.

Despite Dallas being the better squad in the opening period, Tampa Bay went to the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.

Kucherov opened the scoring when he intercepted a poor pass attempt by Miro Heiskanen and converted on the ensuing breakaway at the 5:33 mark.

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Then Stamkos made his return to the lineup a huge success by doubling the lead 85 seconds later. Stamkos, who last played Feb. 5 and finally returned from surgery, took a pass at full speed near the boards, zipped past a defender and fired a perfect wrist shot from below the right faceoff dot. However, Stamkos didn’t take a shift beyond the first period, and saw only 2:47 of ice time. He remained on the bench for the game.

The Stars were rewarded for a strong period when Jason Dickinson netted a short-handed goal at 11:19, but the Lightning eventually took control.

Hedman started Tampa Bay’s three-goal second period with a power-play marker 54 seconds into the frame for his 10th goal of the playoffs. Hedman’s marker is the third-most goals by a defenseman in a single playoff year, behind 12 netted by Paul Coffey in 1985 and the 11 Brian Leetch and Dustin Byfuglien scored in 1994.

Then, Point buried a one-timer set up by Kucherov at 12:02, finishing an odd-man rush created by another Stars turnover, and Palat joined the fun by burying a loose puck with 65 seconds remaining in the period.

After the period, the Stars gave goalie Anton Khudobin — the victim of five goals on 29 shots — a mercy hook in favor of Jake Oettinger for the final frame. Oettinger made three saves while the teams played out the clock.

Heiskanen tallied for Dallas 6:49 into the third period to round out the scoring.

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