Some labeled Thursday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning a “statement win” by the Minnesota Wild. At the beginning of the week, it looked like the Wild needed to get the win in Nashville to salvage points in this stretch. Frankly, three days ago, I would have thought you were right. The Lightning and Nikita Kucherov are damn near unbeatable. A win over the Wild would have given Tampa their 52nd win in 68 games. The Lightning also could ave wrapped up a playoff berth with a win and it’s only March 8th.
How good was the win in Tampa Bay for Minnesota? Like drinking a Mai Tai on the beach in the Sun good. Here’s what we learned:
The Wild didn’t give much up
Sure, that’s a particularly mild heading, but here’s what I found after digging through the stats. The top point-getters for the Lightning like Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Kucherov and the like, were drastically under 50 percent in terms of the shot attempts at 5-on-5. Just look at this list:
Brayden Point - 44.44%
Braydon Coburn - 45.45%
Mikhail Sergachev - 43.48%
Nikita Kucherov - 47.22%
Ondrej Palat - 35.29%
Ryan McDonagh - 40.63%
Steven Stamkos - 43.48%
Yanni Gourde - 31.25%
Seven of those guys are in the top 12 on the team in points, and three have over 78 points (Kucherov 108; Point 81; Stamkos 79). Minnesota gave very little to the tops guns of the Lightning. Couple that with Devan Dubnyk stepping up and making some critical saves at pivotal moments, the Wild played one of the better defensive games they’ve had all season long.
Minnesota finished strong
It’s not that Jason Zucker scored two goals in the third to get his second career hat trick, though it certainly helped. It’s not that the Wild got the benefit of killing three minutes of the first five to start the period with a 2-man advantage.
No, it was the Wild continuing to mount pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning. Part of the reason the shot attempts were so depressed for the top players of the Lightning was because the Wild had 10 5-on-5 shots to the Lightning’s four. Minnesota also nearly doubled the amount of shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the third period as well.
The Wild played a solid third period by moving the puck out of their zone efficiently, played fast through the neutral zone, and maintained puck control in the offensive zone. They didn’t relent pressure like they did both times with the lead against Nashville. The turtling that the Wild are accustomed to doing with a late lead, didn’t exist in this game.
And it needed to be that way. Had they relented, they’d have given the best team in the league an opening to steal a game they probably didn’t deserve to win.
Hoping Kunin is alright
Luke Kunin got clobbered by Cedric Paquette in the defensive zone in the second period. The hit was a heavy, open ice hit, that likely shouldn’t draw the attention of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. However, it was afterward that had everyone holding their breath.
It’s fun to like big open-ice hits. But it’s also scary when a player struggles to his feet and then falls on his way to the bench.
In my most optimistic thoughts, I was hoping he was just winded after the hit knocked the wind out of him, making him a bit dizzy. Those hopeful thoughts were quickly dashed once it was found out that Kunin wouldn’t return to the game. There’s no beating around the bush on this one. It looks to be more and more like a head injury. Though the hit itself didn’t make contact to the head, the sudden whipping of Kunin’s head could equally cause a concussion. Also unknown from the video is if Kunin’s head made contact with anything when it did whip forward.
I’m not going to harp on the hit as I think it was clean. Paquette was delivering a hit as sson as Kunin got rid of the puck. Paquette was finishing a check to which he had already committed. It’s just unfortunate for Kunin that it caused injury.
Kunin had filled in admirably since taking over the center position after Charlie Coyle was traded. Centering a line with Kevin Fiala and Zach Parise isn’t always easy, but he’s been able to generate more High-Danger scoring chances than Eric Staal has in that time span. That line needed time to gel, and if Kunin misses any length of time, it’ll be a shame that Victor Rask takes that spot away from him when Rask returns.
The win was a statement win by the Wild and the way the Wild did it by not giving much up and continuing to pressure in the third period is a good thing to learn and to take forward down the stretch.
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