Zucker strikes Lightning three times, Wild win 3-0
Zucker scored all three of Minnesota’s goals for his first career hat trick, Dubnyk made 25 saves for his second shutout of the season and the Wild beat Tampa Bay 3-0 on Thursday night to deny the Lightning a chance to become the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot.
The Wild improved to 6-0-2 in their last eight games and maintained a hold on the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference playoff race, four points ahead of Colorado with 14 games remaining for both teams.
“We had some tremendous energy today and we pressured them all night long,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When you pressure any team, it’s tough to make plays. We were forechecking, we stripped pucks and I thought it was (Dubnyk’s) best game of the year.”
A victory by the Lightning would have clinched a playoff spot after Columbus lost to Pittsburgh earlier Thursday night.
Tampa Bay lost for the second time in four games after a 12-0-2 stretch in the previous 14, and were shut out for the second time this season — first in regulation.
“We played a stubborn game tonight and stubborn in the sense that we didn’t manage the puck at all,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “When you have to play that grind-it-out game, we refused to play it tonight.”
Zucker put the Wild in front in the first period off a rush play, getting a deflection on Donato’s shot at 10:50.
Minnesota protected the lead with a strong defensive effort the rest of the way. And the rare times the Lightning produced a chance, Dubnyk was there to keep the highest-scoring team in the league off the board.
Dubnyk’s best save at 6:44 of the second period when Anthony Cirelli raced in on a breakaway chance. But Dubnyk came out with an aggressive poke check attempt and stopped the puck with his helmet to keep the Wild in the lead.
“I almost changed my mine at the end because he cut to the middle, but I already committed to it,” Dubnyk said. “It’s about timing, it’s a left-handed shot coming down that side. It helps having a 10-foot wingspan when I spread out, so if I time it properly and I’m willing to take a shin pad to the forehead it usually works.”
Zucker doubled Minnesota’s lead in the third period during a scramble in front, knocking the puck out of the air and into the vacated part of the net. The play was originally ruled no goal for being hit with a high stick. But the officials discussed the play and ruled it a legal goal before going to video review, where the goal was upheld.
Zucker completed the hat trick on an empty-netter with 1:46 left.
“I’m just trying to work hard, that’s all it is,” said Zucker, who reached the 20-goal mark for the third consecutive season and fourth in the past five. “My linemates are playing great and we’re just trying to be a cohesive unit.”
NOTES: The Wild outshot Tampa Bay 14-5 in the third period. … Minnesota C Victor Rask participated in the morning skate, his first practice with the team since suffering an undisclosed lower-body injury on Feb. 12. … Former Lightning RW J.T. Brown returned to Tampa for the first time since he was put on waivers last season. Brown appeared in 286 games during parts of six seasons from 2011-18. … Tampa Bay trailed after the first period for just the 19 time this season in 68 games. .. Wild C Luke Kunin left in the second period and did not return after struggling to get to his skates following a hit from Cedric Paquette. Boudreau said after the game Kunin suffered an upper-body injury. . Wild C Eric Staal extended his scoring streak to eight games.
Lightning: Host Detroit on Saturday.
Wild: At Florida on Friday.