ST. PAUL, Minn. — The traffic was brutal on Black Friday in the Twin Cities, at the Mall of America and in front of the Wild net at the Xcel Energy Center.
But it cleared out early — at least at the hockey game — and when it did, the Lightning was left stranded at the roadside again as Minnesota scored twice early in the third period and added an empty-netter for a 4-2 victory.
Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet has been imploring his players to station themselves in front of the opponent's net and battle for goals. He got two like that Friday, but when Minnesota responded, the Lightning yielded.
"(We had) a couple of guys with deer-in-the-headlights look," Tocchet said. "We can't have that. We have to keep attacking."
The Lightning (6-9-7) outshot Minnesota 19-14 in the third but had few real chances. The final frustration was an ineffective five-on-three power play in the final five minutes. Steven Stamkos had a rocket ripped out of the air by goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Marty St. Louis hit the left pipe with 3:29 left, but there was no mad dash to keep the play alive.
"Our 18-year-old kid was doing most of the moving out there," Tocchet said of Stamkos. "We didn't have much movement, and when we did, we had a 20-foot shot, and we didn't have any traffic."
Lightning goaltender Mike Smith had traffic in front of him in the third.
Two minutes and two seconds into the period, James Sheppard tied the score at 2, using a screen to tip in a shot off a blast from Marc-Andre Bergeron. Four minutes later, Mikko Koivu put the Wild ahead 3-2 when he charged into the crease and pushed the puck into the net.
"It's a fine line, and if we don't do those little things, we're not going to win very many hockey games," Smith said. "It's getting to the front of the net, and getting to the net is not just standing in front, it's getting in front of the goalie's face and not letting him see pucks."
Smith faced 32 shots and made 29 saves.
Tampa Bay's goals were what Tocchet was seeking.
Radim Vrbata tied the score at 1 on a power play with 40 seconds left in the first period, deflecting a Stamkos shot. It was Vrbata's third goal of the season and second in his past three games.
The Lightning, which outshot Minnesota in the game 37-33, went up 2-1 midway through the second after the Wild failed to control the puck in front of the net.
Vinny Lecavalier barreled in from the left side with the Wild's Eric Belanger on his back. Both joined a wad of players in the net as the puck floated slowly to Ryan Malone, who by then was one of the few players still on skates. One tip later and Malone had his sixth goal of the season and a three-game scoring streak.
"Vinny kind of cleared everyone out of there for me," Malone said. "I just tapped it into the empty net. We were putting pucks on net and trying to get those dirty goals like that."
But then they stopped. And it wrecked them.
First Period—1, Minnesota, Nolan 3 (Miettinen, Sheppard), 12:07. 2, Tampa Bay, Vrbata 3 (Stamkos, Ranger), 19:20 (pp). Penalties—Stamkos, TB (boarding), 2:27; Tampa Bay bench, served by Vrbata (abuse of officials), 2:27; Miettinen, Min (tripping), 4:12; Miettinen, Min (hooking), 17:26.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Malone 6 (Lecavalier), 9:51. Penalties—Krajicek, TB (interference), 10:40; Johnsson, Min (interference), 18:33.
Third Period—4, Minnesota, Sheppard 2 (Bergeron, Zidlicky), 2:01. 5, Minnesota, Koivu 6 (Miettinen, Bergeron), 6:10. 6, Minnesota, Belanger 6, 19:37 (en). Penalties—N.Schultz, Min (high-sticking), 14:55; Koivu, Min, served by Clutterbuck, minor-misconduct (unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:55. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-10-19—37. Minnesota 11-8-14—33. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; Minnesota 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 5-5-6 (32 shots-29 saves). Minnesota, Backstrom 13-6-1 (37-35). A—18,568 (18,064).