The Tampa Bay Lightning visited Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, to take on the Minnesota Wild. The Lightning came in to the game on a two-game winning streak as they looked to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Lightning will have another game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday before having a week off to rest and recuperate. News came out early in the day that Tyler Johnson was injured and would not play against the Wild. Meanwhile, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat were deemed game time decisions.
The Wild have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference this season. They came into the game with a 35-12-6 record for 76 points and a five-point lead in the Central Division on the Chicago Blackhawks. Their 76 points also leads the Western Conference and puts them second overall in the NHL.
Andrei Vasilevskiy got the start in net with Ben Bishop as his backup. Erik Condra drew back into the line up following his recall from the Syracuse Crunch. With Johnson injured, the Lightning coaching staff made some changes to the lines including a dynamic new second line.
Jonathan Drouin and Brayden Point played together on the second line with Killorn, who also returned to the lineup after missing practice this week. The combination of Point and Drouin proved effective in the first period as they were the two best forwards for the Lightning in terms of shot differential at 5v5.
They combined on several good passing sequences in the opening period and nearly connected for a breakaway. Having that much speed on one line puts the opposition in a defense-first mindset because as soon as the Lightning gain possession, those two can fly through the neutral zone with speed.
Overall, the Lightning controlled play in the first period. They outshot the Wild 24-13 at 5v5 and kept play in the Minnesota zone for most of the period. The defense did allow a couple of dangerous chances but Andrei Vasileskiy was ready and shut down those shots. The decision to start Vasilevskiy was an interesting one given that the Lightning are on a back to back and typically, Bishop has started the first game while Vasilevskiy got the second. The decisions seemed to pay off early in the game for head coach Jon Cooper.
In the second period, the Wild got back into the game and put more pressure on the Lightning. By the end of the period, they closed the gap on the shot clock a little bit to 35-25. Neither team generated many dangerous chances, as both teams played sound defensively and the goaltenders handed any shots that made it on net.
The Wild scored the first goal of the game on a power play with just over five minutes to go in the period after Brian Boyle took a tripping penalty. On the goal, the Wild did an excellent job of moving the puck quickly from the left side to right side and fired an open shot from the right circle.
Vasilevskiy made the save but sent the puck directly back into the slot. Nino Niederreiter pounced on the loose puck and slid it five hole past the Lightning goaltender. Both Andrej Sustr and Palat had a chance to pick up Niederreiter but in the scramble created by the puck movement and the ensuing rebound, they weren’t able to get to him in time.
Given how the Lightning controlled the game up until that goal, trailing was a harsh place to be. That didn’t last long as Brayden Point stepped up to tie the game late in the period. With a little under three minutes to go, Jason Garrison sent a seemingly harmless shot toward the net. Point turned into a goal with an impressive redirection in front of the net that found Devan Dubnyk’s five hole. The redirection was so unlikely that even Point didn’t realize he had scored until several seconds after the puck was in the net.
The third period was similar to the first. The Lightning controlled play ending the period leading 56-37 in shots. They didn’t generate many dangerous chances and never really threatened to score but they did keep the puck in the Minnesota zone and forced Dubnyk to make saves. They also prevented Minnesota from building much of an attack for the majority of the period.
The most dangerous chances for either team both came late in the period. Minnesota ended up with a 2-on-1 after the Lightning turned the puck over at the Minnesota blue line. Vasilevskiy made an excellent save and didn’t give up a rebound. Shortly after, Gabriel Dumont of the Lightning and Charlie Coyle of the Wild received penalties for a scrum near the benches. The Lightning dominated the 4-on-4 for the final minute of the period. They nearly tied the game on a rebound but Anton Stralman blocked the open net and Victor Hedman cleared the puck from the slot.
With neither team able to take the lead in the third, the game went into overtime. The Wild dominated the overtime while the Lightning never mounted any significant attack. Their best chance came on a shot from Jake Dotchin with Nikita Kucherov positioned in front of the net looking for the rebound.
The Wild created multiple dangerous scrambles in front of Vasilevskiy, forcing him to make several excellent saves in order to keep the score tied. As the period came to an end, Vasilevskiy made one final glove save to send the game to a shootout to decide who would get the second point.
Mikko Koivu decided the game for the Wild, beating Vasilevskiy cleanly. None of the Lightning skaters were able to find the net during the shootout so despite dominating on the shot clock and controlling most of the game, the Lightning had to settle for one point.
MIN - Jason Pominville - No goal
TB - Brayden Point - No goal
MIN - Mikko Koivu - Goal
TB - Jonathan Drouin - No goal
MIN - Zach Parise - No goal
TB - Nikita Kucherov - No goal
A point is a good outcome against the Wild, who have been one of the best teams in the league all year. Even knowing that, accepting one point in a game that the Bolts controlled from start to finish is difficult. Especially when they so desperately need every point they can get.
If they can win Saturday in Winnipeg, that would give them 7 out of 8 points in the last four games heading into the bye week. Anything less will likely be disappointing given the way the team played Friday.