Despite playing without star defenseman Jared Spurgeon and captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild kept up their recent success against Tampa Bay, answering everything the Lightning could throw at them en route to a 5-4 victory, stretching the Wild’s winning streak to five games, and extending their point streak up to 11.
In his first game in almost a month, Nick Seeler had an impact, both good and bad. The Wild defensman showed his rust early in the game, as Seeler and defensive linemate Brad Hunt watched Tampa Bay’s Eric Cernak take a pass from Brayden Point, walk up the center of the ice and get a totally uncontested shot, beating Alex Stalock for the game’s first goal.
On his very next shift, however, Seeler’s effort drew Minnesota’s first power play when Alex Killorn got his stick caught in Seeler’s skates. Nothing came of the opportunity, however, and the Lightning ended up getting a good chance as the penalty expired, which would have likely resulted in a goal had it not been for a strong backcheck by Luke Kunin.
As discombobulated as Minnesota looked at times in the first 10 minutes, they absolutely turned it on in the second half of the opening stanza. Jordan Greenway got things going with an absolutely dominant shift all over the ice, generating chances, throwing his body around on the forecheck and then finding Joel Eriksson Ek all alone in the low slot, beating Andrei Vasilevskiy on the stick side to equalize.
Just over a minute later, the Wild turned a Tampa Bay turnover by Mats Zuccarello into an absolutely beautiful give-and-go from Eric Staal that Jason Zucker buried into an open net, giving Minnesota the lead.
But the Wild weren’t done, as just 28 seconds later, Carson Soucy added to the Wild lead with his third goal of the year (and second in as many games) on a brilliant pump-fake pass to freeze the D. He then got a shot on net to deflect off of Victor Hedman and sneak past Vasilevskiy for the score. All told, it only took two minutes and 41 seconds for the Wild to go from a goal deficit to a two-goal advantage.
Tampa Bay answered on a goal that Stalock will want back, though. Mikhail Sergachev was forced into the corner by Jonas Brodin, but somehow got a low-percentage shot past Stalock’s pad on the short side, cutting the Wild lead to one.
Tampa dominated the play for the last five minutes, getting several high-quality chances, but despite some pretty big rebounds given up by Stalock, the Wild defense was able to keep things under control. With the Lightning on the power play late in the period, by far the best defensive play was by the scoreclock at Amalie Arena, which sounded its horn just as Nikita Kucherov was about to bury a massive Stalock rebound into a completely open net. Thus, the Wild were able to avoid a potentially soul-crushing game-tying goal as the first period concluded, and Tampa would carry 1:26 of the man advantage into the second.
Minnesota killed the rest of the penalty and nearly got a power play of their own when Tampa Bay narrowly avoided a too-many-men penalty after the referees got together and, to Bruce Boudreau’s chagrin, changed the original call. Tampa Bay used the momentum to dominate the next eight minutes in terms of shots, outshooting the Wild 9-1 in the first 10 minutes of the second period, though the Wild did a pretty good job of limiting the Lightning to low-percentage chances. Zach Parise caught a Luke Schenn stick in the face, leading to the Wild’s second power play. Seconds in, Mats Zuccarello fed a beautiful pass to Eric Staal, who had all day to hit an open net, but rang the right post.
Back at even strength, Carson Soucy’s pickpocket led to a grade-A chance on the rush with Ryan Hartman, but they couldn’t convert.
A Nick Seeler interference penalty gave the Lightning their second power play of the game, but Stalock was able to corral the handful of chances the Lightning were able to generate, as the Wild were able to once again keep the third-ranked Lightning power play at bay.
With just over two minutes left, a bizarre sequence occurred with Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli on the breakaway. As Cirelli drove the net to make his move on Stalock, Hartman hooked Cirelli, causing the Lightning winger to collide with Stalock. The puck wound up finding its way over the line in the fracas. The referees initially signaled a goal, but after an extended conference, decided to deny the goal due to goaltender interference. However, they still assessed the hooking penalty to Hartman. The long discussion ended up being a moot point, as Victor Hedman’s slapper made its way through the screen and past Stalock, tying the game at three goals apiece on the ensuing power play.
However, with just 36 ticks left on the clock, Victor Rask answered by cleaning up a loose puck from a Soucy shot that deflected off of Kevin Fiala into the crease.
Despite being dominated in both shots and possession, the Wild somehow managed to maintain their one-goal lead heading into the third, up 4-3.
With 16:00 to play, Matt Dumba fanned on a clearing attempt, and Alex Killorn muscled his way past the defender, beating Stalock’s glove to tie the game.
But if the Wild did one thing well in this game, it was answering immediately to kill Tampa’s momentum. It took just eight seconds for Minnestoa to respond, as right off the faceoff Brodin found Zucker breaking into the zone, then dropped it back to Zuccarello who rifled a shot past Vasilevskiy to give the Wild yet another one-goal lead.
The Wild had quite a few opportunities to extend their lead, but either couldn’t find the handle or were prevented from converting by strong and timely efforts from the Lightning defenders. Halfway through the third, Eriksson Ek was assessed a holding the stick minor, but Tampa Bay couldn’t get much going through much of the power play thanks to the Wild disrupting the Lightning’s zone entries and a yeoman’s effort by Hartman, who gained the Tampa zone one-on-one, regained and maintained possession and even got a shot off shorthanded. Stalock made a great pad save to finish off the man advantage.
Protecting a one-goal lead has not been the Wild’s strong suit this season, but Minnesota did a great job down the stretch of maintaining offensive pressure and stifling the Lightning attack. Soucy continued his strong game by robbing Tampa of a great chance to tie the game by deflecting a shot out of the rink, and Greenway nearly gave the Wild an insurance tally on the breakaway after a Ryan Suter feed. Tampa’s best opportunity to force overtime came with about 3:45 left when Stalock made a series of clutch saves in order to preserve the Wild lead.
With Vasilevskiy pulled, Staal nearly put away an empty-netter on a feed from Zach Parise, but it was just out of his reach. Though the Lightning crashed the Wild net and peppered Stalock with chance after chance, the Wild goaltender and defense were able to somehow keep the puck out of the net. Stalock made one final grab as the buzzer rang, and the Wild escaped with a 5-4 win.
Believe it or not, the Wild are currently in a playoff spot after being literally the worst team in the league a few weeks ago. Minnesota will complete the three-game Eastern Conference road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday at 6 p.m. CT.
Answers to our Burning Questions:
1. Can the Wild shut down Tampa’s power play?
Mostly, yes. Tampa was only able to convert one of their five opportunities. Two chances in, the Wild looked like they had an answer for the vaunted Lightning power play. But after Hartman’s hooking call (which, inexplicably, was neither called a goal on the play nor a penalty shot), the Wild found themselves chasing all over the ice, and Hedman’s howitzer found it’s way through Stalock to convert Tampa’s third opportunity of the game. Tampa did get some looks on their last two power plays, but as they did for most of the game, the Wild did a pretty good job of limiting quality chances on the penalty kill.
2. How will the defense perform without Spurgeon?
If you only looked at the score, you might think the Wild defense had a rough game. And at times, the Lightning did everything to control the ice and generate shot after shot. But while the Wild were counting on the likes Brodin and Dumba to step up, it was Soucy who was the standout performer on the Minnesota blue line. He earned a goal and an assist, was a monster on the penalty kill, blocked shots and created turnovers. Seeler didn’t see a ton of ice time and had an up-and-down game when he was in the game. The often-scratched Seeler showed tenacity at times, generating offense and drawing penalties, but also committed an undisciplined interference penalty and, along with Hunt, backed up into Stalock while Cernak drove the slot and got an easy chance on net, which he buried for the game’s first goal.
Overall, the Wild’s defensive corps definitely had its fair share of gaffes that lead to chances and goals, but the blueliners also made up for it by preventing a lot of high-percentage chances, as well as generating chances of their own.
3. Can Parise keep his point streak alive?
Unfortunately, no. Parise’s best chance came with the empty net, as he nearly found a crashing Staal to seal the victory, but the pass was a little too far in front, and Staal’s diving attempt couldn’t connect. Parise did have one shot and two blocks, and overall had a decent game, though he couldn’t find the scoresheet.
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