The Tampa Bay Lightning are carrying the recent momentum from clinching a playoff berth into the final stretch of the regular season.
Two days after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins to earn a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2006-07, the Lightning built on the victory with another win Saturday afternoon, defeating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at the Xcel Energy Center.
Sean Bergenheim notched his 14th goal of the season with 12:02 to play in regulation to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead and seal the win. The Lightning have won four straight games for the first time since after the All-Star break.
“I think it took a while for us to build up our confidence again after that bad stretch, but our goal is to take one game at a time,” Bergenheim said. “In those games, the structure wasn’t there, and that’s something that we’re getting now.”
Ryan Malone and Steve Downie also had goals for the Lightning, who with 97 points are one back of Pittsburgh for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, although the Penguins also are in action Saturday night. Dwayne Roloson turned in 29 saves.
Roloson was simply sensational. The Lightning net minder continued to stay strong in net despite the extra cushion following Bergenheim’s goal midway through the third. He made a number of saves from in close, including one from point-blank range on Cal Clutterbuck towards the end of the game.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored the lone goal for Minnesota, who had a two-game win streak snapped. He opened the scoring after putting back a rebound off an initial pad save by Roloson at 17:03 of the first.
“They’re a skilled team and they have guys who can handle the puck really well,” Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer said. “That first goal was a bit of a miscue, but as a whole I thought we played pretty well.”
The Wild have lost nine of their last 11 games, all but eliminating them from playoff contention.
Following Bouchard’s goal, Tampa Bay quickly countered with a pair of scores to open the second period and erase the one-goal deficit.
First, Malone slipped one past Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom to finish off a break just over five minutes in, and Downie made it 2-1 with his 10th of the season after shoveling in a pass from Simon Gagne near the side of the net.
“We just tried to stick to the game plan for the most part,” Malone said. “We did a good job of making the adjustments defensively.”
Malone had missed 26 of the previous 27 games due to injury, and was shaken up again on his goal after being shoved into Backstrom, but remained in the game. It was his first goal since potting a goal on Jan. 9 against the New Jersey Devils.
The Lightning used a second odd-man rush midway through the third to their advantage, which all but put the game away.
Martin St. Louis found Bergenheim all alone along the left boards and sent a pass to the forward, who buried a wrist shot past Backstrom to double the Lightning lead at 7:58.
“I think two of their guys were going for the puck, and Marty sneaked it through them,” Bergenheim said. “It was a good play by him and I’m happy that it went in. It’s good to have a two-goal lead in the third period.”
St. Louis now has points in 11 of his last 13 games. He extended his points streak Saturday afternoon to five games, collecting four goals and as many assists in that span. His assist gives him 63 for the season and 93 points, both of which are good for second in the NHL behind a Sedin brother. Daniel Sedin leads the league with 100 points, while Henrik has 72 assists.
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