TAMPA – Minnesota Wild netminder Josh Harding entered Thursday night’s tilt as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, but the Lightning knew the match-up was not about who could score more goals, but who could capitalize at the right time.
“In a 60 minute game we’re going to get chances and the guys can sniff them out,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We only scored two in the game, but we only gave up one. You still have to be able to win the 5-4 game and you have to win the 2-1 game.”
The Bolts proved they can continue to be successful in their newest challenge tonight, with a battle of the best between the pipes, walking away with a 3-1 win over the Wild at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“We’ve learned from those games right out of the gate against Boston and Chicago and it’s prepared us for the last six,” Cooper said. “You have to get these points early because you’re going to go through ups and downs and you want to be able to be ahead of teams instead of behind teams.”
Goalie Ben Bishop earned his fifth-straight win for the first time in his career, while stopping 25 of 26 Minnesota shots. The 6-foot-7 netminder now boasts a 5-0-0 record.
“It’s not just me, it’s the guys in front of me,” Bishop said. “The guys are playing great. You win some games, 7-2, and then we had to win a game like tonight. You have to win all types of games and they were almost waiting for us to make a mistake and we just didn’t make too many mistakes and that was a big win for our team.”
Opening the scoring at 14:02 of the first, Valtteri Filppula held off from taking a shot and instead completed a cross-ice pass to forward Tyler Johnson. Johnson then beat the Minnesota goaltender for a 1-0 lead 14 minutes into the first period with a wrist shot from the left face-off circle.
The 1-0 lead would stand until halfway through the third period as neither team was able to score, but the middle stanza did not end without pressure coming from both benches.
Going to work on Bishop for nearly four minutes in the second, the Wild created a number of scrambles in front of his net. Yet Bishop stood tall and did not allow any of Minnesota’s shots to cross the goal line.
“You just try to stop the puck,” Bishop said. “You don’t really think out there, it’s just more just trying to see the puck, find it and get in front of it. Sometimes you get a little lucky.”
Then before the middle frame’s end, Alex Killorn stole the puck from the Wild’s Mathew Dumba. Killorn and Stamkos led a rush down Minnesota’s zone uncovered, but Stamkos could not finish the play, as Harding came up with a huge save that left the game at 1-0.
More than 50 minutes passed before the Wild managed to knot the game at one in the third. Coming behind Bishop’s net in the second, Nino Niederreiter skated behind Bishop’s net and fed the puck to Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu. Koivu sent a wrister top shelf on Bishop for the game-tying tally at 11:05 of the third.
Stamkos quickly redeemed himself from a missed opportunity in the second however, by scoring the go-ahead goal three minutes after Koivu to give the Bolts the edge. Picking up a beautiful pass off the boards from defenseman Matt Carle, Stamkos broke away with the puck down the slot to return the favor for a 2-1 score.
Sami Salo came up with the insurance goal in the final minute of play as he tried to clear the puck out of the Lightning’s zone. The puck slowly made its way to the back of an empty net, before the Wild were able to catch up with it, solidifying a Lightning victory in a 3-1 final.
UP NEXT – The Bolts are expected to practice Friday morning at the Times Forum at 11 a.m., before playing the fifth game of a season-long, seven-game homestand on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. Saturday’s contest will the Lightning’s second meeting in less than two weeks against division rival the Boston Bruins. Tampa Bay then closes out the homestand with two games next week versus Chicago and Buffalo.