On a night where the Tampa Bay Lightning honored future hall of famer Steven Stamkos for his 500 career goals, fellow future hall of famer Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 stops to pick up his 250th career win in just his 399th appearance as the Lightning defeated the Minnesota Wild, 4-2. Stamkos had the game-winning goal, while Corey Perry scored twice in the second period. Nikita Kucherov sealed the win with an empty net goal late in the game.
Vasilevskiy joins Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden as the only goaltenders in league history to hit the 250 victory mark in less than 400 career games (although Vasy cut it a bit close). The Lightning netminder outdueled Marc-Andre Fleury who had 35 saves on 38 shots for the Wild. Joel Eriksson Ek and Kirill Kaprizov had the tallies for Minnesota.
For the first half of the period, the Lightning weren’t really generating much action in the most dangerous area - the front of the net. Sure, they got into the offensive zone a few times, and the game started off with a nice redirection right at the front of the crease, but too often after that passes went wayward in the Minnesota zone or the Wild closed off the attacks along the boards.
The good news is that the visitors weren’t doing too much on the attack either. So, early on there was a bunch of skating, some hits, some questionable stickwork (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare took a stick across the throat, which is never great) but little actual offense. The Lightning’s best chance came with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli driving the net and shoveling the puck on net. For the briefest of moments the puck appeared behind Fleury, but it lacked the motivation to cross the goal line.
Nick Paul and Jake Middelton tried to inject some energy into the contest with a short middleweight bout. After the fight the refs realized their whistles worked and quickly called a couple of more penalties. First it was Stamkos for hooking as he got caught behind the play and got a little too frisky with his stick. On the power play, Joel Eriksson Ek was a little too handsy in the corner and was whistled for holding. Four-on-four hockey!
Sadly the anticipation of the four-on-four was more than the reality as neither team was able to capitalize with the more open ice.
Ryan Hartman had a moment with about 4 minutes to go in the period as first he took a deflected puck off the face and then as he was twirling around the ice wondering how to get to the bench, blocked a shot with his knee. Hockey, the beautiful game.
With time dwindling Ross Colton toe-dragged around a sliding Matt Dumba to get a solid chance on Fleury while Stamkos had the veteran goaltending scrambling on a point-blank shot. At the other end Vasilevskiy was sharp on a Hartman shot to keep things scoreless. The Wild did pick up a power play at the end of the period as Kirill Kaprizov was hooked at the Lightning blueline by Cirelli.
Solid defensive period for both clubs, with the Lightning getting the edge in 5v5 shot attempts (19-15) and scoring chances (11-5).
The Wild started the period on the power play and used the fresh sheet of ice to whip a few passes around the Lightning zone. Thanks to a nice box out by Erik Cernak on a cross-crease pass the game stayed without a goal.
Nick Paul bumped a pass up to send Brandon Hagel in alone shorthanded, but as Hagel corralled the puck he was met with a sprawling, sliding Fleury who had come way out of his net to deny the chance. Paul tried to slide the puck into the vacated net, but his angle was off just a skoosh and it went wide.
The Wild would get their own shorthanded breakaway a few minutes later when Mikhail Sergachev swung and missed at a waist-high clearing attempt. That led Eriksson Ek in alone and somehow he was able to tuck it around the extended legs of Vasilevskiy.
Joel Eriksson Ek (Jake Middleton) Shorthanded, 1-0 Wild
Stamkos did have a couple of looks as the power play wound down, but Fleury held them off of the scoreboard.
Another power play materialized after Hartman clipped Vasilevskiy while chasing a puck through the crease. There were some chances early on and a delightful moment where Fleury patted Corey Perry on the head with his glove after a Stamkos shot whistled through the crease.
Perry got his revenge a few seconds later as he tipped a slapshot from Ross Colton past Fleury to tie the game. There was a brief moment where it seemed Minnesota might challenge the goal for being touched with a high stick, but in the end they chose not to and the goal counted.
Corey Perry (Ross Colton, Mikhail Sergachev) 1-1
The tempers escalated on the Lightning side following the goal. Mikhail Sergachev was whistled for tripping and as the ref was skating to center ice to make the call, Brandon Hagel was absolutely enraged about a missed call earlier in the sequence. That led to a 10-minute misconduct for verbal abuse for Hagel.
The Wild scored on the power play to add a little salt to the wound.
Kirill Kaprizov (Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Boldy) Power Play, 2-1 Wild
Hartman’s wild night continued as he took a retaliatory crosscheck from Victor Hedman, which earned a penalty, and also another shot from Hedman while he was on the ice. The Wild did not score on this power play, so the Lightning were able to keep it a one-goal deficit.
Shortly after, the Wild decided to leave the slot wide open for Kucherov to skate down. Fleury stopped him but Frederick Gaudreau was booked for hooking. The first power play unit had a nice chance on high-slot shot from Point, but it was the Colton-Perry duo that tied things up for the second time.
After the Lightning had some chances muddled up by passing too much, Colton decided to just shoot the puck - first on the rush, then from the top of the circles. The second one was tipped home by Perry.
Corey Perry (Ross Colton, Alex Killorn) Power Play, 2-2
As lukewarm as the first period was, the second period definitely amped up the excitement. What would be in store in the final frame?
After a second period that featured less than seven minutes of 5v5 hockey the teams came out and stopped committing infractions, at least ones that the refs saw. Shifts for both teams got a little long as they traded extended forays in each other’s offensive zones. Both goaltenders filled their role as the final line of defense, keeping the puck out of the net, Fleury with the most spectacular as he slid post-to-post and gloved a Hagel attempts that seemed destined for the back of the net.
Vasy kept the game tied as he denied Sam Steel (excellent hockey name) from in close after a coverage breakdown by the Lightning.
After some more back-and-forth play for much of the period, much like we saw in the first, the Lightning finally grabbed their first lead. Who else, but Steven Stamkos.
Steven Stamkos (Mikhail Sergachev, Nikita Kucherov) 3-2 Lightning
This may not be a highlight reel goal for Stamkos, but it counts. Smart play for him to keep drifting to the net after the initial pass was deflected, then when it came to him to just shoot it in the direction of the cage. Yes he got a couple of fortuitous bounces, but that’s what goal scorers do - create their opportunities.
Minnesota pulled their goalie with 2:40 left to go and after some poor clears, some wide shots at the empty net, some interference, an elbow to Hedman’s noggin, Kucherov ended all doubt by splitting the uprights from distance to make it 4-2.
Nikita Kucherov ( ) Empty Net, 4-2 Lightning