TAMPA, Fla. – Wild winger Jason Zucker could be in a different uniform right now, perhaps skating with the Flames since a trade with Calgary was discussed before the deadline just last week.
But holding on to Zucker has looked like the smart call in the aftermath, especially after his second career natural hat trick led the Wild to a 3-0 takedown of the NHL-leading Lightning on Thursday — arguably the team’s most impressive and convincing victory to date that pushed its season-high point streak to eight games (6-0-2) and kept it in the second wild card position in the Western Conference with 74 points.
“I’m glad that I’m still here,” Zucker said. “I’ll say that.”
Zucker is in the midst of his most productive stretch of the season, boasting six goals in his last six games. The bulk of this spike came after word leaked that he could have been on the move from the Wild, but he’s responded to that adversity by turning in impactful play during crunch time for the team.
“I’m just trying to work hard,” Zucker said. “That’s really all it is.”
Everyone seemed to have a determined workmanlike approach against Tampa Bay, which was blanked for just the second time this season, this time in front of an announced 19,092 at Amalie Arena. Goalie Devan Dubnyk was terrific, posting 25 saves for his second shutout of 2018-19 — a stinginess that was mirrored by the players in front of him.
“We pressured them all night long, and when you pressure any team, it’s tough to make plays,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “As great as this team is, and believe me they’re great, I thought we were not only forechecking but we were coming back really hard. We stripped pucks, and then I thought it was Duby’s best game of the year.”
A candidate for Dubnyk’s top save of the year came in the second period when he aggressively sprawled to block a breakaway from center Anthony Cirelli.
“It’s nice to have a 10-foot wingspan,” Dubnyk said. “I timed it properly.”
By then, the Wild was nursing a one-goal lead after Zucker deflected in a Ryan Donato shot 10 minutes, 50 seconds into the first.
The team was also without center Luke Kunin for the second half of the game after Kunin shakily left the ice and didn’t return following an open-ice hit from center Cedric Paquette.
“He’s a little woozy,” Boudreau said. “It’s an upper-body injury.”
But being shorthanded didn’t slow the Wild.
Instead, Zucker gave the team a well-deserved insurance goal when he batted in a loose puck by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy — who made 27 saves — at 6:04 of the third.
Initially, the goal was waved off due to a high stick but after the referees conferred they reversed the call.
“Once he called it off, I was a little bit skeptical,” Zucker said. “But I thought I waited long enough, so I was hoping I was right.”
Donato set the chance in motion with his shot toward the net — his ninth point in eight games since arriving in a trade from the Boston Bruins.
And Zucker dumped his third goal into an empty net with 1:46 to go to reach the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career. It was his first hat trick since Nov. 9, 2017, at Montreal, and he became just the second player in Wild history to record multiple natural hat tricks.
The Wild finished 0-for-4 on the power play and survived two chances for the Lightning.
“For whatever reason we seem to play our best against the best teams,” Dubnyk said.