TAMPA, Fla. — The Minnesota Wild look to avoid a Sunshine State sweep when they travel to Tampa to face the top-ranked Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Friday’s loss to Florida dropped the Wild to 8-10-1 on the road this season, a record that will be put to the challenge up against a Lightning team with the most home wins in the league at 14-2-1. Tampa Bay has won six consecutive games on home ice and eight of nine overall.
Some of Minnesota’s struggles can be pinpointed to the team’s play in the third period. Nine times on this season Minnesota has been tied or ahead in the third-period lead only to come away with a loss, six of them in regulation, including against the Panthers. The result is 15 lost points in the standings.
“It’s very frustrating,” Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters after the game. “How many times have I sat here and talked about being tied in the last 10 minutes of a game and not getting anything out of it.”
The Wild actually hold a record of 9-2-2 when leading after two periods and 8-3 when tied after the second period, which makes the third-period struggles harder to take.
“It’s very frustrating…it seems to be a recurring theme,” forward Daniel Winnik said after the game. “We’ve got to buckle down in the third.”
Minnesota is also looking at facing Tampa Bay without top forward Nino Niederreiter, who left Friday’s game in the third period and did not return. Boudreau did not have any update following the game but said the team did not plan on making any recalls as the Wild are carrying an extra forward on the roster.
The Lightning, meanwhile, continue to roll coming off a shootout victory against Ottawa on Thursday, rallying from down a goal three times before pulling out the victory. Nikita Kucherov became the first player in the league to reach 50 points this season with a pair of assists, but it was the play of the third line that helped fuel the comeback.
Alex Killorn had a goal and an assist while Yanni Gourde chipped in with his 11th goal of the season.
“You need some depth scoring and Gourde’s line really came through for us,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Tampa Bay’s depth keeps them in most games, even when they may struggle, as they did for parts of the first period against Ottawa. But from the second period on, the Lightning’s depth helped them established their game and gain the momentum needed to overcome the three deficits.
“Second period, I thought we turned up the pace of the game and played a lot in their end,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Even when we were down, no panic. I thought it was a good game.”