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Stamkos scores late to lead Lightning past Wild

by Lonnie Herman /

TAMPA -- When the Tampa Bay Lightning needed a big goal, Steven Stamkos delivered.

Stamkos scored the tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with 5:04 remaining in regulation Thursday night as the Lightning beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 for their fifth victory in seven games.

Matthew Carle's cross-ice pass sprung Stamkos for a breakaway, and he raced in alone before beating Josh Harding to snap a 1-1 tie.

"People underestimate how fast Stamkos is," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He is a gazelle out there. To have those guys be able to push defenses back and then have the skill set he has, it's a great asset to have. Big time players make big time plays."

It was also a big-time outlet pass from Carle that sent Stamkos steaming into the Minnesota zone ahead of the defense.

"I just tried to send the puck into an area where I thought he could skate into it." Carle said. "It worked out perfectly. I didn't think it was going to work out that well. Anytime you put Stamkos in a position like that, it's good."

Wild coach Mike Yeo was not surprised by the end result of Stamkos' breakaway.

"We make a mistake, and obviously you can't give a player like that an opportunity," Yeo said.

Sami Salo added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining and Ben Bishop stopped 25 shots to win his fifth consecutive decision.

"I thought the first period was a pretty even period. They pushed for a four-minute segment in the second and we really needed him," Cooper said of Bishop. "We wouldn't have the lead in the third period without Ben."

The Lightning led 1-0 through 40 minutes on Tyler Johnson's power-play goal at 14:02 of the first period. But the Wild got even at 11:05 of the third when Mikko Koivu snuck through the slot, took a pass fromNino Niederreiter and beat Bishop.Ryan Suter, who started the play as he led the way into the Lightning zone, got the second assist.

"They are one of those teams that just wait for mistakes, and then they want you to get frustrated … teams that can score will get frustrated," Cooper said. "We talked about that the whole game. You can't keep just pressing, pressing and pressing against them. You have to wait for your chances. We had some chances and just capitalized on enough of them."

The second period featured outstanding goaltending at both ends. Bishop stopped several rebounds from just outside the crease and Harding made a highlight-reel save by diving across the crease to deny Stamkos as he tried to finish a 2-on-0 withAlex Killorn.

Harding finished with 27 saves for the Wild, who conclude a four-game trip with a game against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Despite missing the morning skate with a foot injury incurred when he blocked a shot against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday,Martin St. Louis played 21:29 and was credited with two shots on goal.

Tampa Bay had seven power plays but connected only once, on its first opportunity. WithJason Pominville in the penalty box for tripping, Johnson finishedValtteri Filppula's cross-crease feed for his second goal of the season.

"That's the story of this game," Yeo said. "Against a team like that, with that power play, in their building - first off they get the early power-play goal which put us behind the eight-ball, and the momentum they were generating on the power play all night just put us on our heels. We have to address that. You can't come into a visiting team's building and take that many penalties and expect to win."

The early goal marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Lightning got on the scoreboard first.

Tampa Bay improved to 5-2-0 and continues it season-long seven game homestand Saturday night against the Boston Bruins.

Through eight games this season, the Wild have been able to generate only 18 goals, and nine of those have come on the power play.

"We have to find a way to generate a little more," forward Jason Pominville said. "You can't win many games when you score one goal."

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