Despite not playing a game for four days, the Lightning came out early against the Wild with the same sense of urgency and tenacity that capped their four-game road trip last Saturday in Montreal. The time off seemed to have no effect as Tampa Bay pulled out a resilient 4-3 come-from-behind shootout victory against Minnesota at the St. Pete Times Forum Thursday night.
After the Bolts came out firing within the first five minutes of the opening period, holding a 5-1 shot advantage, Minnesota tilted the ice and held a slight advantage in scoring chances midway through the frame. Martin St. Louis almost broke the scoreless start nearly four minutes in, when he fired a hard wrist shot off of the goal post from the left circle. It was Minnesota who did the damage towards the end of the period, as James Sheppard split the defense through the slot and slid a pass to Benoit Pouliot who backhanded the saucer pass into an open net for a 1-0 Wild lead heading into the second period.
The Bolts opened up the second period on the power play as the result of a Shane Hnidy holding call before the first period horn sounded, but couldn't convert. Minnesota, however, did just one minute later with the man-advantage when Kim Johnsson roofed the puck past goaltender Antero Niittymaki right below the cross bar from the low crease to put the Wild up by a pair. Minnesota nearly went up by three, once again on the power play, but after a shot from the top of the point deflected off of Niittymaki, defenseman David Hale made a spectacular play with his glove to bat the puck out of the air and prevent it from finding the back of the net.
At the other end on the ensuing Lightning attack, Steven Stamkos netted his team-leading 13th goal of the season while shorthanded to cut the deficit to one at the ten-minute mark. The Wild came right back, however, and countered Tampa Bay's goal with one of their own on a 2-on-1 chance by Owen Nolan, who split the defenders and slipped one past the Bolts' net minder to regain Minnesota's two-goal lead at 3-1. The Lightning caught a break just before the buzzer when Minnesota's fourth goal was negated due to it being directed into the net with a hand, preventing a bigger deficit going into the final frame.
Steve Downie got the Bolts back within one halfway through the third period by putting back a rebound chance on a 3-on-1 after an initial shot from Mattias Ohlund. The play unfolded as rookie center James Wright raced for a loose puck at the blue line, beating the Minnesota defender to push the disk over to Ohlund who fired a wrist shot on net. Minnesota net minder Niklas Backstrom squared up and cleanly blocked the shot, but failed to smother it and halt play as Downie converted the opportunity for his second goal of the season.
The biggest play of the night came with just more than a minute to play, as the Wild's Marek Zidlicky was called for a hooking penalty that gave the Bolts a man advantage. After Antero Niittymaki vacated the net, the Lightning took advantage of the extra skater as Ryan Malone scored the tying 6-on-4 power play goal with 14.7 seconds left to send the contest into the extra session. Malone's goal was his 11th of the season and extended Tampa Bay's feat of remaining the only team in the Eastern Conference without a home loss in regulation this year.
Following a scoreless overtime period, Niittymaki stoned Minnesota's first shooter, Mikko Koivu, with his glove and Vincent Lecavalier went five-hole on Backstrom to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead in the shootout. Steven Stamkos netted the game-winner after Martin Havlat of the Wild sent his team's second shootout attempt wide of the net. Stamkos' goal earned Tampa Bay its first shootout victory of the season, as the Lightning recorded their seventh point in their last four games.
"It was a great comeback," Stamkos said. "That was probably the most hard-fought victory of the season, the one that felt the best for sure. To come back, especially on a team like that, was a great team effort."
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