I've got to be honest. I don't know if I remember a team that played as poorly as the Tampa Bay Lightning did tonight and still win. Or to say that conversely, or more positively, I don't know if I remember a team play as well as the Wild did tonight and not win.

After applying some pressure early, the Lightning was outplayed by the Wild in every area. It was absolutely unbelievable how many times the Lightning turned the puck over in the Wild end or couldn't get the puck through the neutral zone because of back pressure or the relentlessness of Wild forwards.

The Lightning D was terrible. Mattias Ohlund, tough night. Same for rookie Victor Hedman.

But with the Wild in firm control in the third, a couple mistakes by Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck on one shift led to Steve Downie's goal that made it 3-2. But Brodziak and Clutterbuck took admiral swan dives on the knife afterward. You can read their quotes in the game story (Incidentally, I don't even know why I write during games. Wound up rewriting story completely in 15 minutes. Not one previous word from during the game survived). 

Then, Marek Zidlicky turned into the Marek "Minor Penalty" Zidlicky of last year. Seconds after Downie scores, Zidlicky takes a penalty. Wild kill that, but then Zidlicky takes a careless hooking penalty on Jeff Halpern with 1:18 left. Referees could not let that one go because the hook resulted in a turnover.

The Wild was doing a great job killing the penalty, but then star in the making Steven Stamkos got the puck. Bad news. He beautifully got the puck to Bugsy Malone, and the Plymouth, Minn., resident roofed it for Goal No. 11.

The Lightning, which hadn't scored a single shootout goal in four losses (which I didn't mention today because I didn't want to tempt fate and stick this sucker into a shootout), got goals from Vinnie Lecavalier and Stamkos, who also scored shorthanded in the game. Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat missed.

It was a shame the Wild didn't win because Owen Nolan deserved an entire gamer written about his incredible goal. The Wild had just given up the shortie and was pinned in its own zone on an ensuing shift. But Nolan got the puck between his own circles, and determined, skated with speed through the neutral zone, crossed the blue line, abruptly turned right and with David Hale all over him, he scored between the other circles while falling. Just an awesome goal.

Here's the link.

Also overshadowed by the loss was the strong play by the Wild's fourth line of James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot and Derek Boogaard. They were good all night, and Sheppard got his first point of the season when he split the D in the first period, got around Hedman, stuck a pass by Ohlund and created an empty net for Pouliot about the size of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was Sheppard's first point since April 10, Pouliot's first goal since Oct. 16.  

OK, I've got a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call ahead of me. I'd be shocked if Josh Harding doesn't play in Washington.

Also, here's a press release:

The National Hockey League’s (NHL) Minnesota Wild announced today that the team will hold a Skills Competition, a fan orientated skills event featuring Wild players on Sunday, Jan. 24 starting at 11:00 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center. Gate 1 (southeast corner of Xcel Energy Center off of Kellogg Boulevard) will open to the public at 10:30 a.m. Proceeds will benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation.

Tickets for the Minnesota Wild Skills Competition are on sale now at the Xcel Energy Center Box Office and all Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) locations or charge by phone by calling (800) 745-3000. General admission tickets are $10.00 in advance or $15.00 if purchased on January 24. Minnesota Wild season ticket holders will receive a complimentary ticket to the Skills Competition for each season ticket on their account.

Fans that purchase a lower level or Treasure Island Resort & Casino Club Level ticket to any Minnesota Wild non-premium home game in December will receive a complimentary Skills Competition ticket in an event suite, a private meet and greet with the Wild coaching staff and a 2009-10 team yearbook.

Minnesota Wild players will be situated at different autograph stations and sign autographs beginning at 11:00 a.m. A $10 autograph ticket must be purchased at each autograph station. Autograph tickets will be distributed to the first 250 fans in line at each station.

Following autographs, players will participate in a variety of on-ice competitions starting at approximately 1:00 p.m. All fans in attendance will also be able to participate in interactive hockey games, a silent auction, raffle and grab bags featuring Minnesota Wild autographed merchandise. The Wild last held a Skills Competition on Jan. 12, 2003.

Great seats are still available for all Minnesota Wild home games. For more information on single game ticket packages visit www.wild.com/ticketpacks.


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