A week ago Sunday, the Lightning blew a two-goal lead over the Wild in the final minutes of regulation before emerging with a hard-fought shootout win at home.
Tampa Bay found itself in the opposite situation Sunday at Minnesota. After chasing the game from the start, the Lightning needed a goal to tie when coach Jon Cooper pulled goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in favor of an extra attacker with 3:09 left in regulation.
The Lightning had their chances, but unlike the Wild in the teams’ meeting last week, they couldn’t convert in a 4-2 loss at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Alex Killorn had two opportunities to score during 6-on-5 play, including on a cross-crease feed from Corey Perry down low that had Wild goaltender Cam Talbot out of position. But the puck skipped over Killorn’s stick and out of harm’s way.
“I think (the Wild) just capitalized on their chances,” Killorn said. “We had a lot of opportunities. They did a good job, and it seemed like every puck that bounced, bounced the wrong way.”
Minnesota forward Marcus Foligno scored an empty-net goal — the Wild missed just wide on two other chances — to seal the Wild’s win with 16.4 seconds remaining.
Cooper said his team never should have been in such a desperate situation.
The Lightning (12-5-3) made a “colossal error” on Minnesota’s go-ahead goal 9:24 into the third period when defenseman Victor Hedman left his post defending the net to jump into a puck battle in the corner, Cooper said. That left Wild forward Ryan Hartman open low in the right circle for a goal that put the Wild up 3-2.
“That third goal was on me,” Hedman said. “I thought they had three guys in the corner, and I kind of left a guy alone in front. That’s the difference in a game that cost us in the end. It was my bad. You’ve got to make that read.”
Cooper said a breakdown like that falls on all five players on the ice. This one was the difference in the game, he said.
“When you do that against a good team, they make you pay,” Cooper said. “And when we had our chance, we didn’t make them pay. We had an open net. (The puck) went over (Killorn’s) stick. I wasn’t sure if he was surprised (the puck) was coming. Normally, he probably gets it and puts it in.”
The Lightning, whose three-game winning streak was snapped, know how good the Wild are and are probably happy they won’t see them again in the regular season. They play a physical game in the corners and in front of the net, but also have the ability to strike quickly, as they showed by scoring twice in the final 2:48 of regulation in the first meeting between the teams.
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“Two games that went down to the wire, and (that’s) probably fitting for two quality teams in each conference,” Cooper said of the Wild, who lead the Central Division and are tied for the second-most points in the Western Conference. “We’re done playing (in the regular season), so I guess if we play again, it’s probably been a good year for both of us.”
The Lightning never had a lead Sunday and were chasing the game after forward Nick Bjugstad’s goal put Minnesota up 1-0 with 8:57 left in the first.
Killorn’s goal 9:24 into the second, which game on a seeing-eye wrister through traffic from the top of the left circle, tied the score at 2.
The Lightning, already without top forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point because of injuries, lost second-line wing Mathieu Joseph early in the second period following a collision with Hartman.
Joseph tested his injury before the third period but was not able to return. The Lightning did not specify what the injury was. Cooper said it was not related to the collision. The Lightning should know more today.
Without Joseph, a top penalty-killer, rookies Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh were forced into extended penalty-killing duty. After defenseman Zach Bogosian was whistled for three penalties in the second period, that unit had to kill off six minutes of power-play time.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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