Lightning broadcaster Dave Mishkin gives his take on Thursday's big victory over Minnesota
Given all that transpired in the game, this was one of the Lightning's most impressive wins of the season. The Minnesota Wild have the best record in the Western Conference. They entered Thursday's game tied for the second-most road points in the league. They had gone 15-2-2 in the previous 19 road games. While they were coming off a regulation loss at home to St. Louis, they were 10-0-0 in their past 10 games following a loss of any kind. In fact, the Wild had lost back-to-back games in regulation just once all season. Now it's twice all season.
So it was a quality win against a top team in the league. But how the Lightning got it done was what made it so noteworthy. Not only did they play a hard, disciplined, crisp game, they did it with a shortened bench. They lost Vladdy Namestnikov and Tyler Johnson to injuries in the second period and Cedric Paquette in the third. Not including converted defenseman Luke Witkowski, the Lightning were down to eight healthy forwards after Paquette left the game.
But ultimately, it didn't matter because the players who were on the ice executed well. For most of the game, the Lightning bottled up Minnesota in the neutral zone and, as a result, owned the majority of the puck possession. In terms of clearing pucks effectively out of their own end and avoiding costly d-zone turnovers, this was one of the Lightning's best games of the season.
Thanks to first period top-shelf goals scored by Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, the Lightning were able to play virtually the entire game with a multi-goal lead. The Wild had a couple of momentum surges - one came late in the first and the other in the closing minutes of the third - but goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had another excellent performance and helped preserve the Lightning advantage. But those Minnesota surges represented only a small portion of the game. The rest of the time, the Lightning simply outplayed the Wild. That was especially true in the second period. Despite enduring the losses of Namestnikov and Johnson during the middle stanza, the Lightning outshot the Wild, 13-6, and extended their 2-0 lead to 3-0. Most impressively for the Bolts, they held the Wild to only nine total shot attempts in the period while recording 27 attempts of their own.
As the Lightning get ready for Saturday's important contest against Florida, they'll learn more about the severity of the injuries to Namestnikov, Johnson and Paquette. And presumably, reconfigure the lineup and line combinations.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Vasilevskiy's key saves when Minnesota surged.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 32 saves.
Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Two goals and assist.