The only things standing between the Tampa Bay Lightning and their third straight win at home were a hot goaltender and a few bad breaks in an otherwise hard-fought matchup.
Tampa Bay held a 38-18 shot advantage, outchanced and outplayed the Minnesota Wild, but nonetheless dropped its sixth game out of the last seven by a 4-1 decision at the St. Pete Times Forum Sunday night.
Tampa Bay has scored just 13 goals in its last seven games, but Head Coach Guy Boucher was quick to admit that the lack of recent scoring was by no means a reflection of his players’ effort.
“We’re getting all the chances we need,” Boucher said. “It’s just that everything seems to be happening against us. Later on, on the same chances when you do the same thing, it goes in and you wonder what went wrong during that stretch. It’s hard to explain, but I know we are going to get there.”
Steven Stamkos assisted on Martin St. Louis’ power-play goal to tie the game at one nine minutes into the first, as each extended their team-leading point streaks to five games. Stamkos leads the NHL with 13 power-play points, while St. Louis holds a league-best nine assists with the man advantage.
Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom was otherwise on point, winning for the third time in his last four starts, making 37 saves. He has only two regulation losses on the road against Southeast Division opponents in his career.
“They were throwing a lot of pucks at the net and some bodies at the net too,” Backstrom said. “I just had to be really strong.”
Cal Clutterbuck and Antti Miettinen each had power-play goals for the Wild, who won for the fourth time in their last six. John Madden also scored and Martin Havlat added three assists.
The loss was just the Lightning’s second in regulation at home, after joining the Washington Capitals as the only other team in the Eastern Conference with a single regulation defeat on home ice, at 4-1-1.
Still, Boucher had positive sentiments about his team’s effort.
“I think we came out real strong,” Boucher said. “We had energy the whole game. Guys were driving hard.”
Dan Ellis, who entered Sunday with a 3-1-1 record and a 1.66 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last five games, made 14 saves on 17 shots, not including Eric Nystrom’s empty-net goal at 19:11 in the third that deflected off both St. Louis’ shin pad and the post before going in.
A similar instance occurred 53 minutes earlier, when Clutterbuck opened scoring after dumping a puck in the zone, only to have it ricochet off both the back boards and Ellis’ skate before caroming into the net at 7:16.
“It was a goofy one,” Ellis said. “I tried to get it out with my foot, but it went right through my legs and hit my other foot, so what do you do?”
The goal was just Minnesota’s first of three in the opening period after scoring a total of just two goals in their previous two contests, both losses against Southeast Division opponents.
Even so, Head Coach Todd Richards thought his team could be better.
“It was a great win, but there were times in the game where we made things difficult on ourselves,” he said. “It wasn’t picture perfect, and the only thing that stuck out in my mind was a lot of turnovers and the decisions that we make sometimes, but it was a great win.”
Madden’s goal made it 2-1 just 1:24 after St. Louis tied it on the power play with a slap shot from the right circle.
Miettinen then took a centering pass from Andrew Brunette and wristed one from the slot, scoring Minnesota’s third goal of the opening period.
“It was one of those games, where again, we doubled the amount of shots of the other team,” Stamkos said. “We have to realize that we are doing the right things, we just can’t buy a goal.”
“I think that the guys who are in this room and the coaching staff will tell you that it is not because we are doing the wrong things,” Ellis added. “We aren’t beating ourselves, we just really haven’t gotten the breaks and bounces.”
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