On a night when the Tampa Bay Lightning threw things back to the 1990s with a throwback soundtrack, the two teams had there own offensive tribute to early 90s hockey by combining for nine goals. Unfortunately it was Minnesota with the extra goal as they won their fifth game in a row, 5-4.
We all had five goals being scored in the first period, right? Because that’s exactly what this match-up produced. Minnesota controlled the play early, but couldn’t really direct anything dangerous at Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Just after Lightning commentator Brian Engblom talked about the Wild as a grind-it-out team that does not not like to score on the rush, the Lightning showed that they are pretty much the opposite. A clearing pass from Vasilevskiy hit a Minnesota defenseman in the Lightning zone and dropped to Brayden Point. He rushed into the Minnesota zone and pulled up as Ondrej Palat drove to the net. That cleared a space for a drop pass from Point to Erik Cernak. Cernak’s shot beat Alex Stalock cleanly.
Minnesota got a chance to equalize the score as Alex Killorn marked his return to action after missing a couple of games by tripping Nick Seeler in the Lightning zone. The Wild didn’t take advantage of the power play as Tampa Bay kept them out of the danger areas. The best chance came from the Lightning as Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde raced out on a two-on-one, but Cirelli’s pass was off target and Gourde could only muster a weak deflection towards the net.
Then came two minutes of hockey that the Lightning would definitely like a do-over on. Let’s just show the goals.
It’s never great when a goalie gives up goals in bunches like that (especially to a team that had 16 first period goals on the season), but let’s not put all the blame on Vasilevskiy.
Goal 1 - Joel Eriksson Ek was all alone in front of the net with the Lightning defenders getting caught looking at the puck behind the net. The only way Vasy can stop that shot is if Eriksson Ek shoots it into his pads. Sadly, he didn’t.
Goal 2 - C’mon, that’s just pretty. Jason Zucker sliding the pass through to Eric Staal and driving to the net for the return feed is the key. Poor Jan Rutta is spinning around like a top out there trying to knock down the pass.
Goal 3 - Vasilevskiy sees the shot coming from the point and tries to make himself as big as possible, but the puck hits Luke Schenn and completely changes direction.
The Lightning did a good job of regrouping after the third goal and keeping possession of the puck a little longer. That’s the best thing a team can do against an opponent that wants to play a cycle game in your zone. Just don’t let them have the puck.
It resulted in the Lightning getting one goal back. Mikhail Sergachev had the puck in the neutral zone and was looking to dish it off to a teammate. None were available so he went for a little skate. As he drove down low, Stalock left him a little space on the short side and Sergachev took the puck form his backhand to the forehand and found a spot to put the puck in. Nifty little play.
The pressure caused a late penalty by Minnesota as Eriksson Ek hooked down Ryan McDonagh who was in a solid position to whack away at a rebound in front of Stalock. The Lightning had three shots in less than a minute and Stalock was literally saved by the horn. He fought off a big shot from Victor Hedman, but the rebound went straight to Nikita Kucherov who had the puck on his backhand and an open net just as time expired. Two more seconds and the Lightning would have scored.
The Lightning didn’t convert on the remainder of the penalty, but it did set them up for a dominating first five minutes of the period. Almost all of the play was in the Minnesota end with the Lightning doing everything right except putting the puck in the net. They were able to cycle the back around and get the shots they were looking for from the point, but just couldn’t get the deflections or rebounds they needed to actually score.
The Wild finally made their way out of their own zone and a rather free-flowing stretch of play followed as both teams went up and down the ice with no breaks in action. The back-and-forth was halted when Luke Schenn brushed Zach Parise’s face with his stick. That is not legal.
For 98.2% of the penalty kill the skaters did their job keeping the Wild on the periphery. For the remaining 0.8% there was Vasilevskiy. As the defenders were drawn over to the far side of the boards, Eric Staal sat all alone to Vasy’s left. Of course, the puck made its way to Staal who had all night to tee it up. Vasilevskiy dove over and got just the barest of touches on the shot, but it was enough to direct the puck off the post and out of harm’s way.
It looked like Anthony Cirelli had tied the game on a breakaway after Alex Killorn dropped a pass at the center red line and drew a defender with him. Cirelli was free and clear to drive the net. Cirelli, Stalock and the puck end up in the net. The ref signaled goal on the ice (as well as a penalty to Minnesota), but it went to replay. For the second time in as many weeks the replay gods don’t shine kindly on Cirelli as they ruled that he pushed the goalie pads (and the puck under them) over the goal line. No goal - but a power play for the Lightning!
After Point and Stamkos had shots blocked Hedman had room from the slot and he hammered it through Stalock’s five-hole. Goal number 100 for the Big Swede.
Alright class, according to the cliche, what’s the most important shift in hockey? That’s right, it’s the one right after a goal. For the first time in the period, the Lightning kind of sat back and Minnesota took advantage. Vasilevskiy batted away a relatively harmless shot from the point to his right. The puck pinballed off of Cernak and drops behind the goaltender. Victor Rask swoops in and bats it into the net. All that hard work and the period ended with the Lightning trailing 4-3.
Minnesota had only mustered five shots in the second period, they were determined to do better in the final stanza. Mats Zuccarello had a great look right in front of the net a minute into the period, but Vasilevskiy stoned him.
Alex Killorn tied the game with the hardworking goal. He knocked the puck into the Minnesota zone and had Mathew Dumba on the back foot after the Minnesota defenseman missed his opportunity to swat the puck away. Killorn then his way past him and snapped a shot past Stalock.
Class, I don’t think you’re paying attention. What did we just say about the most important shift in hockey? Write it down this time. Off the face-off the Lightning get a little loose in their coverage allowing for an easy entry. Zucker finds Mats Zuccarello who wrists one past Vasilevskiy. Despite the breakdown in coverage, Vasy probably wants that one back as he had a clear look at the shooter.
The Lightning did have a power play shortly after the goal that they almost cashed in on. Sergachev had his shot from the point stopped and Stalock blocked Palat’s rebound attempt.
Tampa tried to keep the pressure on, but despite Stalock looking shakier than a Jenga tower with half the pieces missing, they couldn’t find the equalizer. Minnesota did try to counter, but Vasilevskiy made a couple of keys saves including a stop on a partial Jordan Greenway breakaway.
The goalie’s night ended with 2:07 left in the game as the Lightning pulled him for the extra attacker. They kept firing away at the net, but couldn’t put one past Stalock. A couple of bad breaks slowed them down as well. With 80 seconds left, Hedman fired the puck from his side of the redline, but a Lightning forward was going to win the race to the puck. Stalock saw that and played the puck. Unfortunately, the refs blew the whistle anticipating icing. By rule the face-off was at center ice and the Lightning were forced to gain entry again.
Then in the waning seconds, and the Lightning desperately flinging everything at the net, Anthony Cirelli had his helmet dislodged from his head. By rule he had to leave the ice or find his helmet and replace it. He chose to head to the bench, negating the extra skater at an important moment.
The Wild held on and walked away with a 5-4 win.
- This was fun game. It was back and forth all night and plenty of goals were scored. The coaches may disagree, but as a fan, it was entertaining.
- Vasilevskiy didn’t have a great game, but I liked the fact that Coach Cooper didn’t pull him after the three-goal flurry. Those goals weren’t on him, and the coach showed confidence in him. He’s still fighting things a bit in net, but sitting on the bench isn’t going to get him out of his funk.
- The Lightning had a ton of shots and shot attempts from their blueline. That’s good (so is getting three goals from defensemen), but they need to do a better job of getting deflections from their forwards. Minnesota controlled the front of the net and limited their second chances.
- The forecheck and puck retrieval by the Lightning was pretty good tonight. It led to a lot of chances and kept the puck away from Minnesota.
- Minnesota took advantage of the Lightning defense getting too wide at their own blueline. There was a lot of space in the middle of the ice for the Wild to enter the zone and it especially hurt on Zuccarello’s goal.
- Ten years ago to the day, Victor Hedman deposited a Vinny Lecavalier pass into the back of the Islanders net for his first career goal. A decade later he hammered a slapshot into the back of the net for his 100th career goal.
- The Lightning are back on the ice Saturday against San Jose.