A commitment to the system, a timely goal by Cal Clutterbuck and Niklas Backstrom's sharp effort combined for a victory.
After seeing ugly back-to-back losses, the cynics began to fear that the rug was about to be pulled from under the feel-good story that was the Wild.
That's to be expected. This is Minnesota, where lately sports fans are used to losing teams.
But Monday night, 24 hours after a repugnant performance against Calgary, the Wild went back to the roots that made it so successful the first two months.
It battled. It played defense. And it focused more on the process of what it takes to get the victory rather than the victory itself. The result was ... a win -- an impressive one by a 3-1 score over last season's Eastern Conference finalists, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"The most important thing for us was to come here and play a 60-minute game and play our game structure-wise, system-wise, execution-wise and battle-level-wise," said coach Mike Yeo after walking into the postgame news conference wearing a big smile. "It was a great job by our guys to bring that attitude to the rink."
The Lightning struck first, but when the Wild is going well, it sticks with the game plan until it finally strikes. Cal Clutterbuck provided the jolt with another huge short-handed goal, his league-leading third.
Niklas Backstrom, one night after giving up three goals on eight shots, bounced back with 32 saves. The Wild blocked 23 shots, led by Mike Lundin (in his Wild debut) and Greg Zanon (playing his first game in 17), who blocked 10. And the Wild out-trapped the Lightning's much-ballyhooed 1-3-1 scheme by rimming pucks hard and getting in on the forecheck.
"You have to accept that it will be a hard game," Yeo said. "You're not going to be able to just dance through the neutral zone and make pretty plays."
The Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson line was fantastic, and stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were each minus-3.
"It's a good feeling when you can shut them down," Powe said.
After a fast-paced, scoreless first period, the Lightning jumped to a 1-0 lead when Steven Stamkos whistled his 15th goal after a Dany Heatley turnover.
However, the turning point came 21 seconds later. Matt Cullen took a slashing penalty and the Lightning had a golden chance to take a stranglehold of the game.
But Eric Brewer went behind his net to begin the breakout. The puck rolled off the Lightning defenseman's stick right to Mikko Koivu between the circles.
The Wild captain fed Clutterbuck for his 50th career goal and the Wild's fourth short-handed goal.
Minnesota spent the rest of the period swarming the Lightning net.
"I thought after that goal, man, the crowd was rocking and we started to really get some momentum," Yeo said.
Mathieu Garon was under attack, and the Wild took a 2-1 lead on Pierre-Marc Bouchard's eventual winner. Bouchard picked off former Wild defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron's outlet pass, then Johnson took the puck off Brett Connolly's stick before feeding Bouchard for the one-timer from the faceoff dot.
"We were comfortable. We were in our element," Clutterbuck said. "The big thing for us was just sticking with the plan."
"We stuck with our easy game," Zanon added. "Forwards did a great job getting behind their 1-3-1 there, getting in and creating a lot of havoc. They turned a lot of pucks over."
And Backstrom was tremendous, highlighted by a third-period toe save on Stamkos. Yeo never doubted coming back with him after Sunday, and it helps knowing he normally shines in his first start after being pulled (17-2-4 all-time, 13-0-2 in his past 15 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage).
"He's a fierce competitor. He's the ultimate professional," Clutterbuck said.
|Minnesota - WP: C. Thielbar||7||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - LP: M. Banuelos||3|
|Stephen F Austin||85|
|Sam Houston St||69||FINAL|
|San Diego St||59|
|Utah Valley U||69|
|New Mexico St||69|
|Long Beach State||77|
|(22) Middle Tennessee||64|
|(25) Bowling Green||55|
|New Mexico St||65||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||70|