ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Wild looking for road wins on back-to-back nights in a place where they haven’t had much success.
Tampa Bay entered the night having lost nine straight in Minnesota, their last win at the Xcel Energy Center coming April 2, 2011.
There was a lot going against the Lightning. They arrived in the Twin Cities early Wednesday morning following a postgame flight in Chicago. The Wild were well-rested, having not played since Saturday.
Add in the fact that starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was pulled from the lineup at the last minute, unable to play with an illness, and the Lightning had to push backup Brian Elliott back into action for the second straight night, marking the first time he started both ends of back-to-back games since 2017.
Here are three things we learned from the Lightning’s 5-1 loss to the Wild:
Second period continues to bedevil Lightning
The Lightning have had some great starts, and some solid finishes, but their most inconsistent play has come in the second period all season. In Wednesday’s loss, they were outscored 3-1 in the middle 20 minutes. On the season, they have been outscored 36-33, the only period in which they don’t have more goals than their opponent.
They fell behind 1-0 in the opening period after an unlucky bounce on a puck that went off Nick Perbix’s stick and into the back of the net. The Lightning started the second strong, but once Kirill Kaprizov scored on the power play, the game started to snowball on Tampa Bay. Less than two minutes after Karpizov’s goal, defenseman Calen Addison freed himself for a shot from the point that went through a Matt Boldy screen in front and through Elliott.
From there, the Lightning found themselves chasing the game down 3-0. Brayden Point kept Tampa Bay from being scoreless in the period with a power-play goal, but Sam Steel’s answer with 4:25 left in the second made it a three-goal game again.
Kirill Kaprizov is the best player we don’t see enough of
The 25-year-old Wild star is one of the game’s top young players, but Lightning fans only see him a few times a season because he’s in the Western Conference.
It’s clear that Kaprizov is the engine that makes the Wild go, and that his energy on the ice is something that his teammates feed off of.
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Kaprizov scored what might have been the biggest goal of the night with a redirection from the slot on the power play, giving Minnesota a 2-0 lead at the 7:09 mark of the second period.
Boldy fed Kaprizov, who used his hands and positioning to redirect the puck between his legs and past defenseman Erik Cernak and Elliott. The puck wasn’t especially quick coming off Kaprizov’s stick, but he has the perfect touch to leave the Lightning looking.
But Kaprizov’s best play wasn’t on a goal. He closed in on the net and flung a shot behind him between his legs that beat Elliott but hit off the crossbar and off.
Kaprizov added an empty net goal late in the third period.
Colton-Paul-Maroon line shines again
The Lightning’s reworked third line of Ross Colton, Nick Paul and Pat Maroon anchored Tampa Bay in Tuesday’s win in Chicago, especially after the team’s slow start against the Blackhawks. And on Wednesday, the line’s ability to play a heavy game made an impact in a different way by taking away the Wild’s speed, which the Lightning struggled with for most of the night.
Through the first two periods, the combination was the only line that produced more shot attempts than it allowed, meaning it was successful possessing the puck and creating zone time.
The three players seem to be a good fit, and their play was one of the few bright spots in Minnesota. Their games mesh well because they’re all strong forecheckers, play well behind the net and win puck battles. They needed more help from their other lines on Wednesday.
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