TAMPA – The Lightning pretty much had their way, especially at home, the past month or so.
That changed Thursday night.
A 3-0 loss to Minnesota at Amalie Arena halted an eight-game home win streak and an 11-game (9-0-2) home point streak. Overall, they were on a 12-1-0 run.
Jason Zucker scored all three Wild goals and Devan Dubnyk stopped all 25 Lightning shots for his 31st career shutout and second against Tampa Bay.
“We played a stubborn game tonight,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Stubborn in the sense that we did not manage the puck well at all. They clogged up the middle really well and they pressured really well. When you have to play that kind of grind-it-out game, we refused to play it tonight.”
The Wild entered the evening occupying the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, two points ahead of ninth-place Colorado and three points in front of tenth-place Arizona. Hence, the Lightning were up against a desperate team battling for its postseason life. Tampa Bay has and will continue to play a number of teams in a similar situation.
“These teams are very desperate, right on the playoff bubble line,” said Dan Girardi. “We knew that going in, but we couldn’t find a way to match their intensity.”
At 10:50 of the opening period Zucker tipped Ryan Donato’s left circle wrister above Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder to open the scoring.
The Lightning spent majority of the remaining nine minutes of the period buzzing around the Wild zone and at one point had seven straight shots on goal. Alas, Dubnyk was equal to the task.
With about two minutes remaining in the second period the teams exchanged prime scoring opportunities. The Wild had an odd-man rush and Kevin Fiala patiently skated in on Vasilevskiy, who made a pad save. J.T. Miller cleared the puck, which Anthony Cirelli picked up in the neutral zone and skated in alone on Dubnyk, who made a sensational sprawling save.
At 6:04 of the third period Zucker batted home Donato’s deflected shot to make it 2-0. The goal was initially waved off with the indication of a high stick. The officials congregated and reversed the call prior to a review, which confirmed the goal was good.
“I thought for parts of the game we kind of got away from what we wanted to do,” said Tyler Johnson. “Minnesota was a desperate team tonight and they played well. It was a good test for us.”
With Nikita Kucherov off for slashing and Cedric Paquette whistled for hooking, the Lightning had to kill a 38-second two-man disadvantage. They came through that unscathed, but they could not get one past Dubnyk, whose career goals against average versus the Lightning coming in was 1.91 in seven games.
“They are a very well coached and disciplined team,” said Girardi. “They didn’t turn many pucks over, they clogged up the neutral zone.”
Zucker completed his second career hat trick with an empty-netter with 1:46 remaining.
The Wild are 6-0-2 in their last eight games following a 1-6-3 skid. Three of those wins have come on the road against Winnipeg, Calgary and Tampa Bay. They are 8-2-2 in their last 12 games away from St. Paul.
“They have had a grueling schedule and they’re playing elite teams, us being one of them, and they are winning,” said Cooper.
The Lightning were held off the scoreboard for the third time this season. The first was a month ago to the day, February 7, when they lost 1-0 to visiting St. Louis in a shootout. Tampa Bay also failed to score on February 1 at Long Island, though they recorded a 1-0 shootout win.
Tampa Bay winds up a four-game homestand Saturday night (7 p.m.) against Detroit.