TAMPA – It wasn’t 12 hours ago that Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said the Lightning had no weaknesses, that a team with 106 points and some of the best talent in the league often “put the fear of God in you.”
That wasn’t the case, however, Thursday night as the Wild was able to find the very weaknesses that Boudreau said the Lightning didn’t have earlier that morning with the Minnesota coming out of the matchup 3-0.
It’s only the second time the Lightning have been shutout this season, following its loss to the St. Louis Blues in overtime on Feb. 6.
“We played a stubborn game tonight,” coach Jon Cooper said following the shutout loss. “Stubborn in the essence that we didn’t manage the puck at all.”
Failure to manage the puck well was evident by Minnesota “clogging” up the neutral zone, a pattern that ultimately handed the Wild the series win.
Minnesota got on the board somewhat early. Jason Zucker found the open net quickly following a shot from Ryan Donato just 10 minutes and 50 seconds into the first period.
Things turned sour for the Lightning as it finished the rest of the contest without a goal.
A quiet second period and third period start worsened when Minnesota “knocked” the puck in mid-air with just under 14 minutes remaining.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was behind the net trying to bring the puck back around for his teammates when it was stolen by Minnesota’s Jason Zucker. Vasilevskiy quickly made his way back in front of the net, but not before Donato took a shot on goal. The shot was blocked by Vasilevskiy’s pads, but ricocheted up in the air allowing Zucker to snag the puck out of mid-air with his stick and knock it in-between Stamkos and Vasilevskiy’s right shoulder, bringing up the Wild 2-0 at the beginning of the third period.
The immediate call by the referee was no goal. The officials then huddled and determined that Zucker’s stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he deflected the puck into the Tampa Bay net.
An empty-netter toward the end of the third period sealed a three-goal win for the Wild as Zucker found the sweet spot once again with just 1:46 to go and encouraging many Lightning fans to head for the exits. The goal marked his second career hat trick and first one on the season.
Minnesota’s team outskated the Lightning for much of the game, beating them out in the neutral zone and distracting Tampa Bay from its normal style of play.
“For parts of the game here, we just kind of got away from what we wanted to do,” Tyler Johnson said. “But you have to give Minnesota a lot of credit, they played a great game and they were above us, turning some pucks over and playing the right way.”
Devan Dubnyk stole much of the spotlight Thursday night with some incredible saves, including stopping Anthony Cirelli on a breakaway late in the second period.
A shot off of Vasilevskiy rebounded deep down the ice, giving Cirelli a bit of an edge on Minnesota’s defensemen. He made his way down the ice and had the perfect one-on-one opportunity to score, but a shot on goal was saved by Dubnyk’s mask.
That kind of save wasn’t uncommon throughout the night with the Minnesota goaltender as he made 25 saves on the night.
“We had a lot of chances,” Cirelli said after the game. “I didn’t expect him (Dubnyk) to come out like that and it was kind of too late, I had already shot by the time I saw him do that.”
Tampa Bay broke its eight-game win-streak at home with the loss.
The Lightning also missed its first chance to clinch a playoff berth. It needed a win or at least one point in a scenario also dependent on games involving the Blue Jackets and Canadiens.
But the matchup wasn’t a total loss for the Lightning as it gave the team a small glimpse of what the playoffs could be like further down the stretch.
“I think these are good test games coming up,” Cirelli said. “We just got to find a way to do better and get a couple of goals in.”
And Johnson agrees that these are just the types of game the team wants to play at this time of the year. “We’re focused on the playoffs, we’re focused on being the best team we can be going into it, but you’re going to be playing against good teams,” Johnson said. “Minnesota was a desperate team tonight, and they played well. It was a good test for us, we need to play the same way in order to succeed.”
Cooper isn’t discouraged either by the loss.
“I’ve liked the way we’ve played most of the year,” Cooper said. “You’re not going to win them all.”
First Period—1, Minnesota, Zucker 18 (Suter, Donato), 10:50. Penalties–Johnson, TB, (holding), 7:11.
Second Period—None. Penalties–Kunin, MIN, (holding), 1:11; Joseph, TB, (hooking), 12:26.
Third Period—2, Minnesota, Zucker 19 (Donato), 6:04. 3, Minnesota, Zucker 20 (Staal, Fehr), 18:14. Penalties–Kucherov, TB, (slashing), 9:50; Paquette, TB, (hooking), 11:13; Spurgeon, MIN, (slashing), 14:53.Shots on Goal—Minnesota 10-6-14_30. Tampa Bay 11-9-5_25.Power-play opportunities—Minnesota 0 of 4 Tampa Bay 0 of 2.Goalies—Minnesota, Dubnyk 27-21-6 (25 shots-25 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 31-8-4 (29-27).A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:25. Referees—Francis Charron, Steve Kozari.
Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Pierre Racicot.
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.