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Lightning’s defense backslides in loss to Minnesota Wild

Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN | AP]

ST. PAUL — After a run of strong defense and largely dictating games, the Lightning lost their trail Thursday.

They kept the shots against down again, but this time it wasn’t because they were controlling play. The Lightning spent much of a 3-2 loss to the Wild in the defensive zone.

“We weren’t moving our feet, and we weren’t breaking out with speed,” Steven Stamkos said. “We were just flat-footed.”

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He said not playing their style probably cost them the game.

The game started well. The Lightning (28-15-4) spent most of the first 10 minutes in the offensive zone. The Wild didn’t put a shot on net for over 12 minutes, a stretch that included a power play for them. But then something flipped. On their second power play of the game, the Wild put four shots on Curtis McElhinney, one of which got past him.

Zach Parise was left all alone at the back door as Jan Rutta made a choice between staying with him and Eric Staal, and put the Wild on the board.

Nikita Kucherov tied the score at 7:42 of the second period with a blistering one-timer from almost the same spot as Parise’s. But most of the period swung in Minnesota’s favor.

The Wild added two goals, courtesy of Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Suter, 2:11 apart late in the period. Meanwhile, the Lightning didn’t put a single shot on net in the final 6:42 of the second.

“We just didn’t play our way from the beginning of the game,” Kucherov said. “It just didn’t feel like we were doing the right things. We had so many turnovers in the game that we usually don’t. We have to be better next game.”

Victor Hedman echoed that thought on turnovers, adding that the Lightning didn’t carry the puck up the ice, instead circling back, which gave the Wild chances for takeaways on the forecheck.

Minnesota’s second goal came on a takeaway on the forecheck. Marcus Foligno stole the puck from Ondrej Palat, who is usually hard to do that to, and then sent it to Luke Kunin, who boxed Rutta out and passed to Eriksson Ek coming in hot in the high slot.

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The Lightning were too concerned with the puck and lost track of Eriksson Ek all alone. Losing track of a player like that is exactly what they didn’t do when clamping down defensively in recent games.

Kucherov scored another power-play goal midway through the third period. He showed off his shot and hockey sense on the play. Kucherov held on to the puck for an extra second, moving it forehand-backhand-forehand to hide his shot from goalie Alex Stalock.

He’s on a roll with six goals in the last seven games and 11 points in the last 10, but one-goal scorer wasn’t enough for the Lightning to pull this on out.

Unhappy captain

Stamkos felt like he was getting tugged from behind. He got hit in the neck. Neither were called.

The captain refrained from saying too much, starting and ending his comment with not having seen the replay, cutting himself off at one point, but he obviously wasn’t thrilled.

On the more egregious of the two non-calls, Ryan Suter jabbed Stamkos in the throat. A separate unrelated penalty was called (Mikko Koivu for holding), but nothing on Suter. Stamkos’ displeasure was clear on the ice and in his tone after the game. And it wasn’t uncalled for.

Wild 1-2-0—3

Lightning 0-1-1—2

First Period—1, Minnesota, Parise 17 (Spurgeon, Staal), 14:17 (pp). Penalties—Rutta, TB (Holding), 8:47; Point, TB (Tripping), 12:20.

Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 19 (Palat, Sergachev), 7:42. 3, Minnesota, Eriksson Ek 4 (Kunin, Foligno), 12:32. 4, Minnesota, Suter 7 (Greenway), 14:43. Penalties—Volkov, TB (Hooking), 15:46.

Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 20 (Stamkos, Cirelli), 9:32 (pp). Penalties—Koivu, Min (Holding), 1:24; Dumba, Min (Roughing), 7:43; Stamkos, TB (Hooking), 11:43.

Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-7-8_20. Minnesota 8-11-4_23.

Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 2; Minnesota 1 of 4.

Goalies—Tampa Bay, McElhinney 5-6-2 (23 shots-20 saves). Minnesota, Stalock 10-7-3 (20-18).

A—17,305 (18,064). T—2:30.

Referees—Frederick L’Ecuyer, Dean Morton. Linesmen—Julien Fournier, Mark Shewchyk.

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