Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 3-2 shootout loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
TAMPA BAY –
After a strong road win in St. Louis, Head Coach Mike Yeo said what the Wild did wasn't necessarily the end-all, be-all formula for winning on the road.
Yeo said his team needed to find different ways to win in different kind of games. What it found on Saturday was a point on a night the Wild lamented its first product in the first two periods.
"This game, as a group, we have to look at, and obviously we know we weren't at our best," Yeo said. "The bottom line is we came into a building and, I said this before the game: these guys went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and it's a pretty darn good team over there."
The Wild struggled to execute the first 40 minutes, something Yeo cited as a recent strength in Wild wins. But the Wild hung around on Saturday, never trailing by more than a goal, and then sniffed out an equalizer late in the third period.
But Minnesota was unhappy with how long it took it to flip the proverbial switch and get to its game.
"They played great, and we didn't have an answer until the third period," Thomas Vanek said. "Once we found our game, it was good, but it took way too long."
That third period saw the Wild outshoot the Lightning 15-3 as the ice tilted completed toward Tampa Bay's end.
"You never want to play a game like that and have to chase, and try to come back every time," Charlie Coyle said. "If we play like we did in the third period all the time, we'll be a good team."
Minnesota won't be happy with the first two-thirds of that performance by any means, but a point in the standings in January is important however you can get it.
"That's the bright side; we got a point," Zach Parise said. "But two periods was not good hockey."
That's a dramatically different game in a number of ways if not for Devan Dubnyk.
Since sustaining a cut on his arm that was originally supposed to (but ended up not) keeping Dubnyk out of action, the Wild's goalie has been incredibly sharp. Of late, Dubnyk has also gotten a lot of help from the five players wearing Wild sweaters in front of him, but that was not the case on Saturday.
"We have to create some comfort for him back there, too," Coyle said. "We can't always just have him making all the big saves, and playing catch-up all the time."
With the Wild getting badly outshot in the first period, Dubnyk kept Minnesota's deficit at one, making a number of key saves killing a Lightning power play, and at even strength.
Tampa Bay retook a one-goal lead 63 seconds into the second on its second shot of the period, and then had 11 more shots over the next 19 minutes, many of them very threatening. But Dubnyk again made sure the Lightning’s lead didn't balloon, standing tall and giving the Wild a chance on the road in the third period.
"He's doing what he usually does for us," Coyle said. "A number of huge saves there to keep us in it, and we can't always rely on him back there.
"We have to go out, and we have to play our game and score a few goals for him."
Momentum can be a strange, fickle thing in hockey. The Wild would have been glad to end the first period trailing by a goal, but in a blink and in rather strange fashion, the Minnesota found itself even going into intermission.
With 4:21 remaining in the first, Coyle got in quickly on the forecheck. As Andrei Vasilevskiy went behind his crease to play the puck, flanked by two Lightning defensemen, Coyle guessed correctly, jumping the passing lane to Vasilevskiy's right, intercepting the puck, and quickly shuffling it from his forehand to backhand before scoring from a very sharp angle (VIDEO).
"I just tried to read the goalie, and luckily I read it the right way," Coyle said. "I just figured he's out of the net, so I tried to shoot it, and I looked back, and it was in. We needed that at that point."
The old saying goes that a good road period is one you come out of tied. The Wild was by no means content with its first period, but did begin the second with a clean slate both on the scoreboard, and with a chance to elevate its game.
"I don't know how it went in, but we’ll take that bounce," Coyle said. "I wasn't watching until I looked back and saw it in."
There was some talk after morning skate about how the Wild would defend against Tampa Bay's power play, which had scored on nine of its past 29 power-play opportunities entering the game on Saturday.
It’s power play that runs through Steven Stamkos, who, for lack of a less-punny term, is a lightning rod for pucks. Tampa Bay does what it can to feed Stamkos anywhere and everywhere in extra man situations, and Minnesota was focused on limiting those instances while not overcompensating for Stamkos and leaving his teammates open.
The Wild killed off a Lightning power play in the first period, and it was interesting to watch how Minnesota kept tabs on number 91. Ryan Suter was taking peeks behind himself to keep Stamkos in focus, and was being vocal with his teammates to help relay directions.
Suter also kept his gate open, which would have allowed him to pivot had the puck made its way across the zone. The Wild did a good job of — as Ryan Carter said it should this morning — keeping the puck on the opposite side of the zone from Stamkos.
And as Jarret Stoll said this morning, there were moments when Minnesota needed its goaltender to come up big, which Dubnyk did. He got his blocker on a puck (VIDEO) that Stamkos batted out of midair, and later covered the lower portion of the net when a puck trickled back toward the crease following a faceoff.
With Parise back in the mix, the Wild and Yeo faced a lineup decision with 13 (14 including Jordan Schroeder) healthy forwards on the roster.
It was Justin Fontaine who was scratched, the second time he's sat out in three games, but the Wild also had to juggle its lines to reinsert Parise.
And they did, at least for part of the first period. Parise was back with center Mikael Granlund, but with Thomas Vanek playing on his opposite wing. The line of Coyle, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Zucker remained intact, while Jason Pominville was skating with Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula.
Without Parise on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, Yeo said the plan was to stick with the new lines the Wild was using that night, but that he needed to be ready to change on the fly if necessary.
It took the Wild 14:59 to register its first shot on goal of the game, and Yeo went back to more familiar configurations, with Pominville and Vanek switching spots.
"[Yeo] tried switching up the lines and getting something going, and we didn't really get a spark until the third," Vanek said.
Midway through the third period, the Wild went back to those new lines looking for a spark, and Yeo continued to tweak and prod looking for any kind of boost.
"There was a lot going on, just trying to spark some guys, and just trying to find something that was going to click," Yeo said.