Tampa Bay Lightning doomed by early mistakes against Minnesota Wild

(Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning simply couldn’t overcome a series of first-period mistakes and ultimately fell 5-4 to the Minnesota Wild at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has been on quite the rollercoaster ride this season. The Lightning is headed back in the right direction following Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators. Tonight, the Lightning made their way back to Amalie Arena for 90’s Night where they would look to continue their winning ways with a victory over the Minnesota Wild.

The Bolts haven’t exactly had the best luck when it comes to the Minnesota Wild as of late. The Wild swept the season series last season culminating with a 3-0 victory over the Lightning on March 7. The Wild came into tonight’s encounter on a win streak of their own, picking up wins in their last three games.

As of this morning, it was unknown whether or not Lightning forward Alex Killorn would be able to take the ice with the team tonight. According to Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper, Killorn would ultimately be a game-time decision. When the puck dropped, Killorn would join his team on the ice, which means Cory Conacher, who was called up in case Killorn wasn’t good to go, would serve as a healthy scratch.

The Lightning wasted no time in getting down to business. Before the Bolts Nation could even get settled in their seats, the Bolts were already on the board with a goal from defenseman Erik Cernak. This was Cernak’s second goal of the season, with assists going to Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Less than two minutes later, the returning Killorn would make his way to the sin bin for Tripping against Wild defenseman Nick Seeler. The good news is, the Lightning would kill the penalty and return to full strength. Regrettably, it would be downhill from there for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Right before the halfway point in the period, the Wild would tie things up with a goal from Joel Eriksson Ek. No big deal, things happen, shake it off, right? Well…just over a minute later, the Wild would strike again. This time it would be Wild forward Jason Zucker who would pick up the goal.

The Zucker goal was painful for Lightning fans to watch. Andrei Vasilevskiy was way out of position and a wide-open net opened the door for the Wild to snatch the lead right out from under the Lightning.

Regrettably, the pain didn’t end there. A mere 28 seconds later, the Wild would extend their lead over the Lightning to two goals with a goal from defenseman Carson Soucy. This time, the puck would bounce right over Vasilevskiy’s right blocker and into the back of the net.

Finally, the Lightning would find a way to stop the bleeding. Mikhail Sergachev would pick up his fourth goal of the season with assists from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Cedric Paquette. The particular goal was a beauty. Sergachev was taking the puck around the net and before making his way around the rear of the net, Sergachev fired the puck at the net. The puck deflected off Wild goaltender Alex Stalock and into the net.

The Tampa Bay Lightning would finish off the first 20 minutes of play on the Power Play. Joel Eriksson Ek, who scored the Wild’s first goal of the night, would make his way to the penalty box for two minutes for Hooking against Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh. The Bolts weren’t able to capitalize on the man advantage during the remainder of the first period and the penalty would continue into the second period.

When it comes to the scoresheet, things definitely didn’t look good for the Lightning. However, when you dig deeper things definitely could’ve been worse. The Lightning outshot the Wild 9-13 in the first period. Another area the Lightning controlled was the faceoff circle, going 46-54 in the first period.

Things definitely didn’t look good for the Bolts in the first period. Rookie-level mistakes opened the door for the Lightning to not only lose the lead the picked up in the first two minutes of the game but saw them go down 3-1 in that same period of time.

If the Lightning had any hope of getting back into this game, they would have to use the first intermission to center themselves and hit the ice running in the second. The Lightning would need to assert their dominance early and keep the pressure on for the remainder of the game in order to come out on top.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a couple of good looks in the remainder of the penalty to Eriksson Ek, but the Bolts simply couldn’t convert on the Power Play. The Wild would successfully kill the penalty and return to full strength.

The Bolts would spend a lot of time in the offensive zone in the opening minutes of the second period. Regrettably, with a mere three shots on goal through the first 10 minutes of the second, the Lightning wasn’t able to make anything happen and continued to trail the Wild 3-2.

The Lightning would find themselves in the hot seat once again. Just before reaching the aforementioned halfway point in the period, the Bolts would be headed back to the penalty kill as Luke Schenn would be sent off for two minutes for High Sticking against Zach Parise. The upside here is the Bolts were able to kill the penalty and return to full strength unscathed.

Shortly after killing the penalty to Schenn, the Lightning would find themselves on a Power Play of their own, the Lightning’s second of the night, as Seeler was sent to the sin bin for Interference against Yanni Gourde. The Wild would kill the penalty, but it wouldn’t be long before the Lightning would make them pay.

Anthony Cirelli would charge the net and pick up his seventh goal of the season to tie the game for the Bolts. Well…at least for the next two minutes. The officials would review the goal, which would ultimately be overturned due to goaltender interference.

The only upside to come out of this is the Wild would get hit with a penalty on the play. Wild forward Ryan Hartman would get called to the box for two minutes for Hooking against Anthony Cirelli. This opened the door for Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman to capitalize and tie things up for the Bolts.

This was a particularly special goal for the 28-year-old Swedish defenseman. Hedman’s goal in the second period was his 100th career goal. The lone assist on Hedman’s 100th career goal would go to Nikita Kucherov. Interestingly enough, Hedman’s 100th goal would come on the 10th anniversary of his very first goal.

Regrettably, the Lightning’s success wouldn’t last long. Just 36 seconds after the goal from Victor Hedman, the Wild would catch Vasilevskiy unawares once again and snatch the lead right back out from under the Lightning…again. This time, it would be Victor Rask who would pick up the goal for the Wild.

This is where the period would come to a close. The Lightning would trail the Wild 4-3 through 40 minutes of play. While the Lightning didn’t see a lot of action in the second period, the Bolts would outshoot the Wild for the second period in a row, outshooting the Wild 5-8 for a two-period total of 14-21. The Lightning was much more dominant in the Faceoff Circle through the second period of play, going 36-64.

The third period would get off to a good start for the Lightning thanks to the returning Alex Killorn. Killer would power past Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and charge the net. Killorn would shoot the puck and Wild netminder Alex Stalock would fall backward and the puck would fly into the back of the net.

Killorn’s third-period goal would be his seventh goal of the season. The lone assist on the goal would go to Erik Cernak. This would be Cernak’s second point of the night, having picked up the first goal of the game 1:52 into the first period.

Unfortunately, history seemed to repeat itself once again. And no, it wasn’t to the Lightning’s advantage. A whole eight seconds after the Killorn goal, the Lightning would find themselves trailing once again as the Wild would cut straight through the Lightning’s defense and Mats Zuccarello would pick up his sixth goal of the season. Andrei Vasilevskiy was visibly upset after Zuccarello put the puck right through his five-hole.

The Lightning would get another chance at the Power Play at 10:14 in the third period when Joel Eriksson Ek would head off for Holding against Brayden Point. Unfortunately, the Lightning was unable to capitalize on the man advantage and the Wild would return to full strength.

There were just over two minutes left in the game when Coach Cooper would pull Vasilevskiy in favor of getting an extra skater on the ice. This was a dangerous but regrettably necessary move on behalf of the Lightning.

While the Lightning was able to keep the puck out of their own net, they couldn’t put the puck in the Wild’s net either. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lightning would fall 5-4 to the Minnesota Wild.

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Surprisingly enough, despite the seemingly endless stream of rookie mistakes that led to the Lightning’s eventual demise, there were a few areas in which the Lightning actually performed fairly well. The Bolts outshot the Wild 7-13 in the third period for a three-period total of 21-34. The Lightning also continued their dominance in the Faceoff Circle, going 43-57 through three periods of play.

While there were a number of defensive miscues that contributed to the Wild’s dominance in the first period, Andrei Vasilevskiy simply must be better moving forward. Vasilevskiy was ridiculously out of position on the Zucker goal, which basically left the net wide open for the taking.

It didn’t exactly take a sniper to score that goal.

Less than 30 seconds later, Vasy found himself beaten once again as the puck sailed right over his right blocker and into the back of the net. We’re not sure if Vasy has some sort of PTSD from the postseason or whether the new contract has sucked all the determination out of him, but whatever the case may be, it needs to come to an end, and fast.

One of the positives to come out of tonight’s game is the offensive prowess of the Lightning’s defense. Three of the Lightning’s four goals were scored by defensemen. Cernak, Sergachev, and Hedman all put the puck in the back of the net tonight. As we mentioned previously, Hedman’s goal was number 100 on his career.

The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly has a lot to do if they have any hopes of being a contender for the postseason. Thankfully, there is still plenty of hockey to play at this point. At the same time, the Lightning may not want to wait much longer to get things sorted out. The last thing a team wants is to have to rely on their final few games of the season to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

The Lightning has little to no time to dwell on tonight’s disappointing loss. The Lightning has tomorrow to pick themselves up and dust themselves off before charging back into the Amalie Arena to take on the San Jose Sharks. This will be the first of two meetings between these two teams.

The Sharks were in a grueling battle of their own tonight. The Sharks were in Raleigh where they would do battle with the Carolina Hurricanes. After a scoreless third period and a scoreless 3-on-3 overtime period, the Sharks would ultimately fall 3-2 to the Hurricanes off a goal from Andrei Svechnikov.

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Needless to say, both the Lightning and Sharks will have something to prove in the Sunshine State on Saturday night. Here’s hoping the Lightning can resist the urge to fall back on old habit and build on the positives from tonight’s loss to the Wild and come up with a big win on Saturday against the Sharks.