As utterly insane as this would have sounded one month ago, the Minnesota Wild are just two points out of a playoff spot. Despite playing some of the most unwatchable hockey possibly ever in the month of October, the Wild are now on a 10-game point streak and, believe it or not, do have a chance against last season’s President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
Odd, I know. But here we are.
While the Lightning may not be the team they were last year — it would be nearly impossible for them to replicate their incredible 2018-19 campaign — this is still the Tampa Bay freakin’ Lightning. Their 13-9-3 record just does not correlate with the talent the team possesses. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are still point-per-game players and Nikita Kucherov remains borderline superhuman. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, hasn’t been on his A game this season, but there’s no question that he has the potential to win a game for his team (though he hasn’t done so very often this season).
Without a doubt, the Wild will have their hands full as they head into Amalie Arena looking to win their fifth straight game. Especially without defenseman Jared Spurgeon in action. The Wild announced Wednesday that Spurgeon will be out for about two weeks with an upper-body injury. He has since been placed on injured reserve, opening up an opportunity for an AHLer to get some reps in. Against Tampa, though, it seems likely that Nick Seeler will draw into the lineup for the first time in nearly a month. Seeler has appeared in just four games this year and has registered zero points on the season with a minus-3 rating.
Of course, the man who will need to be particularly good against Tampa is goaltender Alex Stalock. Stalock has played well recently, which has been instrumental in the Wild turning their season around over the last month or so. Still, the Lightning, even though they are underachieving this season, remain a powerhouse. Things could be difficult for the 32-year-old netminder, but he’s put together enough solid performances to earn the trust of his teammates.
1. Can the Wild shut down Tampa’s power play?
This is going to be possibly the biggest test of the night. Tampa Bay’s power play remains one of the very best in the NHL — the third best, if we’re being exact. Minnesota’s 17th-ranked penalty kill will have to be close to perfect as they look to shut down the Lightning’s top unit of Hedman, Stamkos, Kucherov, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat.
2. How will the defense perform without Spurgeon?
As of right now, no one on Minnesota’s roster is capable of playing at Spurgeon’s level. The 30-year-old is one of the most underappreciated defensemen in hockey, and the Wild will absolutely miss his presence on the back end as they hope to shut down an offense capable of demoralizing the opposition. Just ask the New York Rangers.
If the Wild want any shot at winning this game, they will need all of their blueliners on their game. Nick Seeler especially, as Tampa may look to exploit him in his first game since November 9.
3. Can Parise keep his point streak alive?
The Wild aren’t the only ones hoping to keep a streak alive. Zach Parise is looking to extend his scoring streak as well. Parise has registered at least one point in each of his last five games, and there’s perhaps no better time for the 35-year-old to keep the momentum going than in Minnesota’s tilt with Tampa.