There were worries about the Wild looking rusty, and slow coming off the “bye-week.” If there was rust, the Wild didn’t show it. Minnesota took the ice for the 12th time on Hockey Day Minnesota, hosting the NHL’s best team in the Tampa Bay Lightning. A slew of Minnesota natives found themselves on the score sheet as the Wild won a convincing 5-2 game in front of 19,007 friendlies.
It was all Minnesota early. The Wild were able to put together a number of good chances on Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. But it wasn’t until Tyler Ennis was clobbered in the neutral zone after watching his drop pass that the Wild really woke up. Nate Prosser went after Ryan Callahan and Jake Dotchin stepped in. Prosser got an extra minor for roughing and it put the Wild down a man. Minnesota didn’t give an inch. The penalty kill gave up zero shots to the Lightning’s 3rd ranked power play on the first two opportunities.
The power play for the Wild would work, though. Zach Parise drew a penalty after slipping the puck by Andrej Sustr, and that Zach Parise tenacity that we all have come to know and love, forced Sustr to hook him. On the ensuing faceoff, Eric Staal won the draw back which Jared Spurgeon converged and fired a hard slap shot that knuckled past Vasilevskiy. It took just two seconds of power play time for the Wild to cash in.
Roughly 7 minutes later, Parise would try to glove a puck down just inside the Lightning zone. It’d get bobbled and bounced around before it would end up on the stick of Staal. Staal, using his body to shield the puck, dropped the puck back to Ryan Suter for a hard slap shot. Parise would get his stick on the puck and deflect it past the TB goalie for his first goal of the season. Jon Cooper, Lightning head coach, would challenge the play for goalie interference, but the challenge was about as bad as Sean Peyton’s challenges last Sunday in the NFC Divisional round. Minnesota out-shot the Bolts 10-6 in the first and held the 2-0 lead into the 1st intermission.
The second period was nearly a perfect display of defense by Minnesota. The Wild allowed nothing, and even kept the Lightning in single digits in shots on goal until the after the 15 minute mark. It gave the Wild the ability to get more offense. Kyle Rau, fresh off his call-up, working on the forecheck sent the puck behind the net along the boards. Joel Eriksson Ek, who had a superb game himself, freed the puck from the boards and found Nate Prosser pinching in from the point and the third Wild goal of the game. Prosser now has three goals scored on Hockey Day Minnesota.
Brayden Point would get the Lightning back within two at 15:35. The goal was scored on Tampa Bay’s 10 shot of the game. Point got the puck in the high slot and found room under the blocker of Devan Dubnyk. Shots were 21-12 after 40 minutes.
Minnesota wouldn’t let the Bolts get back into the game to start the third. Matt Cullen forced a turnover along the boards and rimmed the puck behind the net for Ennis. Ennis then tried to give the puck back to Cullen near the goal post, but the play didn’t connect. Instead, the puck went right out to the slot where Marcus Foligno was waiting. Foligno then sniped the corner over Vasilevskiy for a 4-1 lead.
The primary assist on the Foligno goal would be Cullen’s 700th career point, and the Wild faithful gave out a loud ovation for the former Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud State Husky.
Things would get tighter when both Gustav Olofsson and Matt Dumba went to the penalty box for roughing, giving the Lightning a full 2 minutes of a two-man advantage. Dubnyk came up with four humongous big saves to open the penalty kill. The Wild were able to get a big clear with fans roaring in applause for the Wild netminder and new dad. Dubnyk and his wife welcomed their third child on Monday during the bye-week. Unfortunately, Point would get another with 38 seconds left on the power play. The shot would squeak through Dubnyk, and then hit off his left skate before getting pushed into the net further by Dubnyk himself.
Bruce Boudreau would challenge the goal for goalie interference, but there was no bumping going on. Dubnyk gave up some added room to Callahan, who was providing a screen on top of the crease. Had Dubnyk not given up his ice, he likely would have had a much better case, as well a made the save.
Jason Zucker would add an empty net goal to give the Wild a 5-2 win. Zucker made a guarantee before the game that he’d score a goal in the game, and that he did.
Minnesota held the edge in shots, and an edge in the dots. The Wild didn’t allow Steven Stamkos a shot, and kept Nikita Kucherov pointless. Meanwhile, all four Minnesota-born players in the Wild line-up had a point. It was a convincing win and put a great wrap on Hockey Day Minnesota.