In the NHL, there are these things called "schedule losses". Moments in the 82-game schedule for each team where there are a lot of circumstances working against them. Second night of a back-to-back, the second back-to-back in less than a week, fifth game in 10 days (all on the road) and against a quality, rested opponent?
Yeah, this qualifies.
Add to the fact that Tampa was playing without key cogs Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown, and Brett Connolly -- and thus had to dress a line's worth of AHL-caliber players in their stead -- and you have a recipe for disaster.
Credit to the Minnestoa Wild, who were crisp and effective with the puck and capitalized on scoring chances seemingly at will, but this was simply not Tampa Bay's night. While a better fight through adversity is something you'd like to see, it's hard to look at this game and not think "yeah, that's about what I expected".
You can call these things 'excuses' if you wish but the truth is Tampa Bay was gassed and depleted and winning this game likely would have required the type of performance in net they simply did not get.
Tampa Bay looked like the tired team early; they weren't making any mental errors and their structure was fine but there was very little jump to their game. Minnesota was the aggressor throughout the opening minutes, and they capitalized early with a pair of markers from Marco Scandella and Mikko Koivu. Neither was a fantastic scoring chance, but Matt Carle did get beat on the wide rush by Scandella and Nabokov likely should have had Koivu's bad-angle shot.
The Lightning answered with a goal from Anton Stralman in tight. The Tampa blueliner got behind the Minnesota defense after pinching in and was never marked; Eric Brewer found him and Stralman tucked a backhand shot underneath Darcy Kuemper to bring the Lightning back within a goal.
That wouldn't last, however, as Minnesota scored another quick pair on Nabokov to chase him from the net. The first came from a bad giveaway behind the net by Jonathan Drouin, but the second was a turnaround from near the wall by Jason Zucker -- a real howler. That put the Wild up by 3 and forced Jon Cooper's hand. Ben Bishop entered the game with a few minutes still remaining in the first.
Tampa Bay continued to look disorganized and gassed in the second with Bishop in net as Zach Parise scored just two minutes in to extend the Wild lead to 5-1. Vlad Namestnikov then went down with an injury behind the Minnesota net while trying to land a hit on Jonas Brodin, to add injury to insult.
The bleeding wouldn't stop there, however, as just after the halfway point of the middle frame Jared Spurgeon finished a 2-on-1 with Thomas Vanek with a tap-in goal past Bishop to put the Wild up 6-1. Nikita Kucherov would answer with a tip-in goal of an Anton Stralman point shot to make things 6-2.
With Wild cruising due to such a big lead, the Lightning did start to take advantage of passive play by Minnesota. Tyler Johnson drew a penalty in the waning moments of the second, but the Lightning power play failed to generate much of consequence and headed into the third period still facing a four-goal deficit.
The Bolts took the ice in the third looking to salvage a little bit of pride and maybe change their momentum heading back home, and they got a chance when Matt Cooke took a penalty in the opening seconds to put the Lightning on a brief 5v3 power play, but TB managed nothing but a half-hearted feed through the crease by Valtteri Filppula and nothing on Kuemper in a full two-minutes of man-advantage time.
Jason Zucker added a shorthanded breakaway goal late in the period to punctuate a game the Lightning will want to be quickly forget before finally returning home to face the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
- Evgeni Nabokov truly looked terrible. He'd been outstanding up to this point, so he'll get the benefit of the doubt for now. But 4 goals allowed on 8 shots is bad enough; giving up two goals on very-bad angle shots is unacceptable. Using Bishop here was a worst-case scenario for a team that wore down their starter a season ago. It's way, way too early to start thinking about Kristers Gudlevskis or Andrei Vasilevskiy, however.
- Vlad Namestnikov left with an apparent injury in the second. He received an elbow to the head from Jonas Brodin as he tried to land a hit on the Wild defender. The elbow didn't look intentional, and Namestnikov did return to the game, so the Syracuse Crunch roster as it stands right now might remain intact at least for another day or two.
- While Tampa Bay was effectively score-effecting in the middle frame, taking possession of the puck as Minnesota had no need for it, there was simply nothing doing in the third. Nikita Kucherov registered the team's first shot on goal of the period with almost 9 minutes elapsed in the final period.
- Somehow, Anton Stralman came out of this game unscathed -- he was the only member of the Lightning with a positive goal differential (+1) and while plus/minus is largely pointless it is notable here when the Bolts gave up 7 goals and every other skater was negative. That signing looks better and better as the season goes on.