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Kuemper stops 34 shots, leads Wild past Lightning

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild never trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, but it still was a night for comebacks.

The Wild (30-21-7) scored in the first and third periods on their way to a 2-1 win, but the game wasn't so much about the how or the why as it was the who for Minnesota.

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who missed the past 14 games with a foot injury, returned to the lineup and had the primary assist on both Wild goals. Goalie Darcy Kuemper, who surrendered four goals in each of his past two starts, stopped 34 shots to improve to 7-3-2.

Tuesday was Kuemper's first chance to rebound from back-to-back poor games in the NHL. Wild coach Mike Yeo said Monday the game would provide the 23-year-old rookie with a "huge growing moment."

"Really impressive," Yeo said of his young goalie after the game. "The last game, in overtime, is still a loss. Lose the game before that. … How do you come to the rink the next day and be mentally tough enough to come in and perform at the level you need to? That's what was very impressive about him tonight."

Despite the praise from his coach, as well as from some of his veteran teammates, Kuemper downplayed his performance.

"I've been in this situation before at different levels," Kuemper said. "It was nothing new really. It was the first time at this level, but you just have to treat it the same way.

"Right now, you just go out and try to do your part to help the team get wins every night."

Spurgeon's return took on added importance two minutes into the game when Wild defenseman Marco Scandella left with a lower-body injury.

After clipping knees with Lightning forward Tyler Johnson at the Tampa Bay blue line, Scandella fell backward slowly, awkwardly twisting his right knee, ankle and foot. He was helped to the bench by teammates and did not put any weight on the leg as he exited. The 23-year-old defenseman, who has three goals and 13 assists in 55 games, is doubtful for the game Thursday against the Nashville Predators, Minnesota's last before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Yeo said.

It didn't take Spurgeon long to crack the scoresheet in his return from injury. Nine seconds into the Wild's first power play, Nino Niederreiter cleaned up the rebound of a Spurgeon's one-timer for his 10th goal of the season at 16:04 of the first period.

Then, 34 seconds into the third period, Spurgeon set up the Wild's second goal by outworking two Lightning players for a turnover in the Tampa Bay zone and sliding a pass to Dany Heatley in the slot for a tip-in goal, his 11th.

"The team has been playing great [since his injury Jan. 4]," Spurgeon said. "I just wanted to get back in there and try not to ruffle any feathers with the chemistry."

Tampa Bay climbed back within one goal when Valtteri Filppula tipped an off-speed shot along the ice by Martin St. Louis under Kuemper's left arm with 6:07 remaining in regulation. It was Filppula's 20th goal.

"I don't know how much courage we had going to the net tonight, until the end," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Look where the goal was scored, standing right in front of the net."

Kuemper got some help midway through the third period from defenseman Ryan Suter. When a puck snuck through his five-hole and crept close to the goal line, Suter swiped it out and iced the puck to keep the Wild ahead 2-0.

Kuemper also got an assist from the left post on a Johnson shot with 39 seconds left and the Lightning net empty. He stopped 11 shots in the first and second periods and 12 more in the third.

With Scandella out virtually all night and the team playing with five defensemen, Suter played a game-high 34:31 and was a plus-1. An alternate captain for the U.S. in Sochi, it was the 28th time in 58 games Suter has played more than 30 minutes.

Ben Bishop made 24 saves for Tampa Bay.

"We worked harder, we just didn't work smarter," Cooper said. "That was a big problem. We're a pretty good puck possession team, but if you keep turning pucks over in the neutral zone like we did for the first 50 minutes of the game, it's going to be hard to generate offense."

The Lightning (32-19-5) finished their four-game road trip at 1-3-0. They return home to play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday before the Olympic break.

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