The Tampa Bay Lightning may have watched their brief, two-game win streak come to a close in Minnesota Friday night.
But the Bolts encouraging play of late continued against the Wild.
The Lightning played a solid road game versus Minnesota. They kept their turnovers to a minimum. They played smart with the puck in their own zone. And they got an outstanding performance from netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy to come out of Minnesota with their first point since April 2011 in a 2-1 shootout loss.
Tampa Bay has found success fleeting in Minnesota, going 2-8-0 coming into Friday's game.
Although the Lightning couldn't end their losing streak in the Twin Cities, they came away claiming a badly-needed point with one more game before their bye week, that coming Saturday in Winnipeg in the second half of a back-to-back set.
We'll examine how the Lightning earned that point in 3 Things we learned from a shootout loss in Minnesota.
Video: TBL@MIN: Vasilevskiy extends pad to rob Parise in OT
1. ANDREI THE GIANT
There was some surprise when Andrei Vasilevskiy led the Lightning onto the ice for pregame warmups in Minnesota for his first start since February 2 versus Ottawa.
After all, Ben Bishop had been absolutely brilliant for the Bolts in the last two games, stopping 14-of-16 shots and two of four in a shootout to beat Anaheim 3-2 on Saturday and following that up with his first shutout of the season, a 28-save performance that spearheaded a 5-0 blowout of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.
Vasilevskiy wasn't at his best in his last appearance, allowing four shots on 29 shots to Ottawa, and had lost eight of his last nine decisions coming into Minnesota.
Make it nine losses in his last 10 following the shootout defeat to the Wild, but Vasilevskiy did everything short of scoring a goal to help the Lightning continue their win streak in one of his top performances of the season.
"The goaltenders have been giving us a chance to win the games," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "You've got to feel for the kid, here's another one where we just get one for him."
Vasilevskiy stopped 37-of-38 shots against the Wild, setting his season high for saves in the process, and made two more saves in the shootout.
Vasilevskiy was at his best in the final minutes of regulation with the game tied 1-1 and the Lightning desperately trying to hold for a point. With 1:50 to go, Minnesota's Mikael Granlund sped into the offensive zone with the puck on a 2-on-1 rush. Rather than dish, Granlund released a shot from just inside the right circle that Vasilevskiy snared with his right armpit, falling onto his side to keep the puck trapped against his chest.
In the final minute, a scramble in front of the Bolts' goal produced a couple of quality chances for the Wild. Vasilevskiy was up to the task for each of them, getting some helping from a sliding Victor Hedman to poke an open attempt away at the last second.
Vasilevskiy earned second star honors in Minnesota.
In truth, Vasilevskiy was the Bolts' first, second and third star Friday night.
Video: TBL@MIN: Point threads a redirect through legs and in
2. MAKING A POINT
The Lightning lost Brayden Point for 14 games in late December-early January to injury, Cooper lamenting that the rookie was playing his best hockey of the season prior to getting hurt.
But since returning from the upper-body injury, Point has picked up right where he left off and has even taken his game to another level.
In five games post-injury, Point has netted three goals, doubling his pre-injury total (Point had three goals through the first 36 games of his career). Against Minnesota, he displayed his superior hand-eye coordination by getting a tip on Jason Garrison's blue line shot and angling the puck through the legs of Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk from a sharp angle to level the score 1-1 Friday night.
"You're rewarded for going to the net," Cooper said. "When you go to the net, that's where goal are scored. Are you going to tip them all in? No, but the more you're there, the better chance you have. That's a perfect example because that shot coming in is definitely not going in the net. But when you're at the net and wreaking havoc down there, and that's what he did, we got rewarded. And clearly a big goal, they'd scored on the power play and we answer back right away."
Point saw 15:43 time on ice on Friday. Here's guessing the young center will see that total increase soon to the near-20 minutes he was averaging in the five games before his injury.
His continued impressive play since coming back has warranted more playing time.
Video: Cooper on shootout loss to Wild
3. BUILDING MOMENTUM
It was important for the Lightning to carry over their effort from the Los Angeles blowout win on Tuesday into the Minnesota game for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, the Bolts need every point they can get to climb back into playoff position. Entering Friday's game, Tampa Bay was tied with Buffalo and Detroit for last place in the Eastern Conference but still within striking distance of third place in the Atlantic Division and the final wild card spot in the East.
But just as important, the Lightning need to develop some consistency as they near their bye week. Too often this season, the Bolts have followed a superb performance with a subpar one, the team unable to sustain its level of play night in and night out.
For three-consecutive games now, the Lightning have turned in an above-average effort. It's no coincidence then they've also earned a point in three straight.
"We've got to keep munching points," Cooper said. "We did that tonight."
They'll need to do it once more on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back set in Winnipeg to keep that momentum going heading its weeklong break.