TAMPA, Fla. – Goalie Alex Stalock was clutch under pressure late, warding off the Lightning as it vied for another tying goal that never arrived.
But Stalock didn’t feel he was at his best overall Thursday despite making 30 saves.
And yet that didn’t sink the Wild, which still held on for a 5-4 win over at Amalie Arena in Tampa that counted as its fifth in a row while pushing its point streak to 11 games – the second-longest in team history.
“The last 20 minutes I was just doing whatever I can to win this game and whatever it took to focus as much as I could, and it came down to a battle at the end and I ended up making the last save,” Stalock said. “A lot of nights in this league that’s what it comes down to.”
Tampa's first goal came on its first shot, off the rush, and its second was a puck that slipped between Stalock and the post. A point shot from standout defenseman Victor Hedman accounted for the third goal, and the Lightning scored its fourth five-hole. After that, Stalock was air-tight but there were stretches earlier in the game where he seemed to be fighting the puck since it wasn't sticking to him as much as it usually does.
Goaltending has been steady for the Wild lately, no doubt a catalyst for its recent run, but it hasn’t been the only factor. And that versatility is key. Not only has it helped the team’s recent resurgence, but getting contributions from different players game to game is what can sustain it.
“I’ve been on really good teams and really successful teams, and you see when players pick up things for other players that aren’t having their best game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I was thinking at one point in the third period maybe last game it was a different line. Now it’s [Eric] Staal’s line. And the game before it might have been [Joel Eriksson] Ek’s line.
“So, each line at this stage is doing it and you’re getting Victor [Rask] in or Ryan [Donato], somebody’s scoring a goal with limited minutes. It’s really nice to see.”
Staal’s line was the one to pace the pack this time, combining for six points.
Winger Jason Zucker had a goal and assist, and winger Mats Zuccarello finished off a three-point night by scoring the clincher only eight seconds after Tampa tied it at 4 early in the third period.
Known as a passer, Zuccarello has now scored in back-to-back games and has six on the season to go along with 10 assists.
“He’s putting them in right now,” Zucker said. “He’s obviously known to be a playmaker, but I think he’s also proving he can score goals.”
This was also a memorable game for defenseman Carson Soucy, who switched from his natural left side to the right spot next to Jonas Brodin on the second pairing.
Soucy didn’t look out of place at all and actually might have played his best game of the season.
His unit with Brodin was dinged with one Lightning goal but was on the ice for four Wild tallies – including the last two which were huge response goals.
“Anytime you're out there with another lefty, you just gotta try to get used to it because it is a little different,” Soucy said. “But I've played a little before and felt good tonight."
Stretching its point streak to 11 games wasn’t the only way the Wild reworked its record book Thursday.
Its three goals in 1 minute, 41 seconds in the first period tied the record for the three fastest in a road game. The feat was previously accomplished March 25, 2004, by Andrei Zyuzin, Wes Walz and Matt Johnson.
This time, Eriksson got the ball rolling before Zucker and Soucy followed up in quick order.
“It was huge,” Zucker said. “I thought that shift by [Jordan Greenway] and [Eriksson Ek] was huge. [Greenway] made a great pass to Ekker, and [Ryan Hartman] was part of that as well. Great plays overall. Mine, [Staal] made a great play. [Zuccarello] made a great play off the wall. So, it was good. Then the third one Soucy [had] just kind of [a] seeing-eye shot that gets through. Just trying to play simple hockey but make plays when we had the chance.”