Heading into the month of February, it was completely fair to say...
Vasilevskiy’s Heroics Not Enough As Bolts Fall 2-1 In Shootout
Following a modest two-game winning streak, the Tampa Bay Lightning (24-24-7) were looking to win three straight games for the first time since mid-November. Going into the Xcel Energy Center to take on the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild, the Lightning knew they had a tall task in front of them. Although they would come up short, the heroics of Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed them to come away with a valuable point in the standings.
Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, several of the highlight-reel variety, as the Lightning fell to the Wild (36-12-6) 2-1 in a shootout in the first meeting of the season between these two teams. However, he wasn’t able to stop Mikko Koivu in the shootout, as Koivu scored the only goal by either team in the skills competition. Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk earned his league-leading 30th victory with 26 saves, while Nino Niederreiter tallied the Wild’s lone regulation goal. Brayden Point notched the lone goal for Tampa Bay that tied the game late in the second period, as the Lightning now sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with 55 points. They sit five points behind Boston for the final wild card spot in the East and six behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division with 27 games remaining.
Early on, the Wild turned up the pressure on the Lightning, using their speed and tenaciousness to create turnovers and quality scoring chances. Vasilevskiy had to be very sharp in the opening half of the first period, making an early save on Jason Pominville off a rebound despite traffic in front. A couple of minutes later, a Lightning turnover in their own zone ended up on the stick of Zach Parise, who dished the puck into the slot to Erik Haula. However, Vasilevskiy was able to slide over and make an excellent save to keep the game scoreless. Later on, the Lightning’s Cedric Paquette stole the puck and skated in with a clear look at the net, only to have the puck knocked away at the last moment. Each team had a power play chance that they were unable to convert, while Brian Boyle had a quality chance in the early minutes of the period and then put an exclamation mark on the opening stanza by dropping the gloves with Minnesota’s Marco Scandella. It was the exact opposite of JT Brown’s recent fight against Anaheim, as Scandella clutched and held on while Boyle got in a couple of punches. The game was scoreless after one period with the Wild owning an 11-9 edge in shots on goal.
The pace of the first half of the second period was considerably slower than the first, as neither team was able to generate much in the way of shots on goal, shot attempts, or scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Lightning, it was the Wild who would break the ice first on a power play. Following a tripping penalty on Boyle, Niederreiter backhanded a rebound from the slot past Vasilevskiy to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead with 5:29 left in the second period. Mikael Granlund and Pominville tallied the assists on Niederreiter’s goal, his 18th of the season. Tampa Bay would respond with 2:44 remaining in the period, as Alex Killorn got the puck over the left wing boards to Jason Garrison, who simply put the puck on net. Although the shot was going wide, Point was in front to redirect it between Dubnyk’s legs and into the net, tying the game 1-1 with his sixth goal of the season. Tampa Bay would get a power play with 1:29 remaining in the second period, but it would soon get wiped out when Victor Hedman was was called for holding Parise as he began a shorthanded rush down the ice. Minnesota continued to maintain their lead in shots, outshooting the Lightning 9-7 in the second period and 20-16 through 40 minutes.
The two teams would play 4-on-4 for the opening 31 seconds of the third period, followed by Minnesota having a power play for a little more than a minute. Tampa Bay was able to kill it off, and both teams would play each other pretty tightly with neither able to generate much extended time in the offensive zone. Both the Wild and Lightning tried creating offense off the rush, and both had decent looks at the net, yet were unable to convert in the early half of the period. The game would become more conservative as the period dragged on, as the Wild were content to chip and chase, while the Lightning were looking to get the game into overtime and play for at least one point. The pace of the game would pick up over the second half of the period, as Nikita Kucherov had the Lightning’s best chance of the final period when his redirection of a pass from Jake Dotchin barely went wide of the net with just under eight minutes remaining. With about five minutes left on the clock, the Wild took over the game and the Lightning held on for dear life. Parise nearly put the Wild up when he worked a give-and-go and charged towards the net with the puck, only to be turned aside by Vasilevskiy. Mikael Granlund found himself with the puck on a 2-on-1, but Vasilevskiy shut the door. Gabriel Dumont and Charlie Coyle took two-minute minors with just over a minute left, leading to 4-on-4 for the rest of regulation, as the Wild had a 33-26 lead in shots at the end of regulation.
In three-on-three overtime, Minnesota dominated the entire period, as Granlund, Parise, and Matt Dumba each had phenomenal scoring chances, highlighted by Parise being robbed by Vasilevskiy multiple times and Granlund being stopped at the buzzer by Vasilevskiy following a terrible turnover by Ondrej Palat. During the shootout, Point, Jonathan Drouin, and Kucherov each missed, while the only Minnesota shooter to convert was Koivu, who made a dazzling move to his backhand to beat Vasilevskiy. Kucherov’s miss put the final touch on this loss for the Lightning, who still managed to come away with a valuable point. If the Lightning are going to allow the opposition to get points, it might as well be to a Western Conference opponent.
Tampa Bay will return to the ice Saturday night when they pay a visit to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg to take on the Jets. Puck drops at 7 pm. It will be the Lightning’s final game before their league-mandated bye week.
NOTES: Tyler Johnson was not in the lineup for this game, as he was replaced by Erik Condra….Killorn returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game vs. Los Angeles, while Palat made his return after missing the team’s previous two games….Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness set an NHL record with his 2,165th game behind an NHL bench as either a head coach or an associate/assistant coach. The old record was held by the legendary Scotty Bowman.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Despite the loss, his heroics were the reason this game got all the way to a shootout. Without him, the Lightning would’ve lost this game in regulation. Finished the game with 37 saves, many of the sensational variety.
2nd Star: Devan Dubnyk – Picked up his league-leading 30th victory of the season between the pipes, making 26 saves.
3rd Star: Zach Parise – Led the Wild with five shots on goal, and even though he didn’t find the scoresheet, he probably would’ve had at least a hat trick if not for Vasilevskiy’s magic in the Lightning crease.