TAMPA, Fla. – Jeff Halpern recorded one goal and one assist in his Tampa Bay Lightning debut and goaltender Mike Smith made 24 saves, but a third period goal by Brian Rolston proved the difference-maker in Wednesday’s contest. In the lone meeting between the clubs this season, the Minnesota Wild posted a 3-2 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Michel Ouellet added the opening Lightning goal in the contest as the teams met at Tampa Bay for the first time since late October, 2003. Pavol Demitra and Todd Fedoruk posted the first pair of Minnesota goals en route to the win.
The Wild posted six shots on goal in the first period, testing Smith early in the game. Stopping Branko Radivojevic in front of the net, Smith dropped into the butterfly position to hold a shot after the Minnesota winger snapped a shot from a few feet outside of the crease.
Early in the frame newly acquired forward Jussi Jokinen looked to respond for Tampa Bay. Snapping a shot from the right faceoff circle, Jokinen posted one of his four shots during the contest but was denied by a Niklas Backstrom pad save.
Holding off Minnesota’s leading scorer, Smith grabbed the puck for a glove save after Marian Gaborik skated down the left wing to put a shot on goal.
As a Vincent Lecavalier shot from the top of the faceoff circle slipped wide of the net, and an attempt by Darche at the top of the crease was held off with a pad save, the clubs skated into the second period with a scoreless tie.
Credited with his third goal of the season, Fedoruk opened the scoring at 3:46 of the second period. After Pierre-Marc Bouchard put a shot on net from the left side boards, the puck deflected in front of the net and between Smith’s pads.
Extending the lead to two goals 70 seconds later, Demitra added his 13th goal of the season. Snapping a shot from the right hash marks, Demitra beat Smith as he dove across his crease reaching for the glove save.
Minutes later Smith made a strong pad save to hold Gaborik off on a breakaway attempt. Picking off the puck in the neutral zone, Gaborik skated down the middle of the slot before snapping a shot towards the five-hole.
Cutting the Minnesota lead in half, Ouellet scored with 7:38 remaining in the period.
Snapping the puck off a feed by Halpern, Paul Ranger saw his shot deflected on its way to the net. The rebound bounced to Ouellet at the goal line, where the winger fired a shot that deflected off Brent Burns and beat Backstrom to the top right corner of the net. The goal was Ouellet’s ninth of the season.
Jeff Halpern puts a shot on Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom during the second period on Wednesday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Working to tie the game at two, Andre Roy tried to connect at the top of the crease. Banging at a pass from behind the net, Roy was unable to settle the puck for a solid shot but forced Backstrom to make a save.
Closing out the period with another save against Gaborik, Smith got his right leg on a shot as the Minnesota forward streaked into the zone on a breakaway.
Gaborik was held off the scoresheet for the fourth consecutive game, his longest pointless stretch of the season. The Minnesota winger leads his team with 63 points and 33 goals this season.
Opening the third period with his 24th goal of the season, Rolston scored with the man-advantage to give the Wild a two-goal edge. When Kurtis Foster’s slapshot from the point bounced off the back boards to the side of the net, Rolston popped the puck past Smith for the score.
When Mikko Koivu tried to convert a pass from behind the net, Smith dropped to cover the shot at the side of the crease before Halpern scored to bring the Lightning back within one.
After Mathieu Darche fought Keith Carney for possession of the puck behind the net, he put a pass towards the goal line. Posting his 11th goal of the season, his first with Tampa Bay, Halpern redirected a low shot past Backstrom.
At the midpoint of the period Jokinen snapped a shot from the point that tipped as it approached Backstrom. The Minnesota goalie made a glove save on the attempt before covering a shot by Ouellet. After Ouellet backhanded the puck on goal Halpern looked for the rebound but Backstrom dropped to control the play.
With Smith on the bench for an extra attacker the Lightning finished off the game with a flurry of activity in front of the net. Unable to post the tying goal, Tampa Bay dropped only their home ice loss against Minnesota in franchise history.
Making his first start for the Lightning, Smith stopped 24 shots as Tampa Bay out-shot Minnesota 33-27. Newcomers Jokinen and Halpern posted four shots each and both teams scored once on the power play.
Tampa Bay closes out their three-game homestand on Friday, February 29 (8:00p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second and final time this season.