TAMPA, Fla. – The shots came in succession, one right after another and another like nearby waves in the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shoreline.
But Wild goalie Alex Stalock didn’t budge, not when the pucks sailed just wide of the goal, up over the top or right into him. He weathered the storm, keeping his teammates afloat until they jumped on board to help.
“Every time they come in your zone, it’s a scoring chance,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
As valiantly as the team tried, the Wild couldn’t contain the NHL’s best the entire night. And when the Lightning finally struck, it did so with minimal time to recover — a late-game blow that sunk the Wild 3-0 Saturday in front of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. The Wild enters the three-day holiday break amid a two-game slide that capped a 1-3 road trip.
“I thought our guys played great,” Boudreau said. “The heart that they played with, the determination, it’s unfortunate the last two minutes ended like they did. I told them after the game that if they play like that, they’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Defenseman Dan Girardi broke the scoreless tie with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the third period when he pinched to one-time a Brayden Point feed by Stalock, the nudge the Lightning needed to pack the net with pucks.
Only 52 seconds later, center Tyler Johnson scored before winger Nikita Kucherov poked the puck into an empty net at 19:07. Stalock finished with 28 saves, while Andrei Vasilevskiy had 22 in his fourth shutout of the season.
“Any time you give one up late, it takes the wind out of you,” Stalock said. “Obviously, we had momentum after that unbelievable 5-on-3 kill and then they get a break and find the back of the net.”
A 5-on-3 look by the Lightning for 1:09 earlier in the period seemed to galvanize the Wild, rather than Tampa Bay, as defenseman Jonas Brodin and winger Daniel Winnik each turned in a clutch shot block.
But the special-teams momentum didn’t spill over into the offensive zone, where the Wild went 0-for-6 on power plays despite putting 10 shots on goal; the Lighting also was blanked on six tries.
Still, Tampa Bay was as advertised, a dazzling display of speedy skating, slick shots and smooth setups — characteristics that have helped it pace the NHL in wins (26) and points (54) amid the franchise’s best start. But its execution was lacking.
Not long after puck drop, Stalock gloved a Steven Stamkos redirect, stopped a close call from center Cedric Paquette and turned aside a look from Girardi. At one point, Tampa Bay was outshooting the Wild 10-1.
Overall, the Lightning put 12 pucks on goal in the first period with another 16 missing the net or blocked, and that number ballooned to 41 by game’s end.
“He deserves better,” center Matt Cullen said of Stalock. “He gave us an opportunity tonight. He was fantastic. It was unfortunate we didn’t find a way.”
Withstanding that early flurry seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game and while holding off the NHL’s gold standard for almost all of regulation didn’t go unnoticed by Boudreau, it didn’t seem to emerge as a silver lining among the players — who will commence the search for consistency when the Wild resumes play Wednesday at home against the Stars.
“We think of ourselves as a team that should be in that caliber, to be real honest,” Cullen said. “We haven’t played to that level yet, but we feel like we can get there. I don’t know that there’s any moral victories right now. I think it’s a matter of we need to find a way to get two points on a regular basis.”