December 24, 2017 / 3:29 AM / in a year

Late strikes propel Lightning past Wild

Late strikes propel Lightning past Wild

TAMPA, Fla. — The holiday break will be a happy one for the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning.

Dan Girardi, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored late in the third period to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 22 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and eighth of his career.

The Lightning (26-7-2) enter the three-day break for Christmas with nine wins in the past 10 games and seven consecutive victories on home ice.

Alex Stalock, starting in net on consecutive nights for Minnesota (18-15-3), stopped 28 shots for the Wild.

Girardi scored his second of the season, coming down the slot to take a threaded pass from Brayden Point at 17:18. Johnson scored 52 seconds later, while Kucherov scored his league-leading 24th goal into an empty net with 53 seconds remaining to turn what was close, defensive game in to what looked like a lop-sided score.

“It was tight checking,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You are going to wake up and see the box score and it was 3-0, and nobody really is going to know the three goals were all scored in the final three minutes. I thought we grinded and in the end, we had a few more looks than they did and it was just a matter of trying to get one by him.”

The Wild, meanwhile, have lost four of five heading in to the break, but coach Bruce Boudreau was not down on his team’s performance against the top team in the league.

“I thought our guys played great,” Boudreau said. “The heart they played with and determination. It’s unfortunate the last two minutes ended like it did. But I told them after the game if they played like that they are going to win a lot of hockey games.”

The game was dominated in many ways by special teams play as there were 12 minor penalties called, six on each team. Tampa had allowed seven power-play goals in the previous three games.

“The penalty kill really responded to the tough stretch,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “I’m very proud of those guys. Everybody on the PK, including (Vasilevskiy), did an outstanding job. They gave us a chance to make a play at the end.”

Tampa Bay had control of the play through the first half of the opening period. The Lightning were using their speed through the middle of the ice and getting into the Wild zone with ease. It led to a pair of Tampa Bay power plays through the first 11-plus minutes of the game and the Lightning built up a 10-1 advantage on the shot clock, but were unable to put one past Stalock.

With the ice tilted in Tampa Bay’s favor, Alex Killorn took an offensive zone tripping penalty at 13:39, 10 seconds after the second power-play chance, and the momentum started to turn as the Wild generated shots and chances, getting four shots on the power-play opportunity. Minnesota outshot Tampa Bay 9-2 over the final 6:21 of the period, though the game remained scoreless.

Both goalies remained locked in during the second period as well. Vasilevskiy came up with the biggest save of the game, stopping Charlie Coyle in tight and then denying the rebound chance at 15:06.

Each team had power play chances in the third, including a 1:08 two-man advantage for Tampa Bay starting at the 9:03 mark that Minnesota killed off, but the Wild were unable to capitalize on the momentum when they received a power play chance with 6:32 left.

“We can regroup and move on to the next one,” Koivu said. “Obviously there are things that we need to do better here, starting with myself, starting with everyone. We’ve got to be better. That’s the bottom line. It’s a matter of being consistent and we haven’t done that so far this season.”

NOTES: Minnesota RW Nino Niederreiter was not in the lineup for the Wild after leaving Friday’s game at Florida in the first period. Coach Bruce Boudreau said a call-up might be needed when the team returns from the three-day break for Christmas. ... Minnesota G Devan Dubnyk missed his sixth consecutive game with a lower-body injury, but has resumed skating and could be ready to return next week. ... Tampa Bay scratched D Slater Koekkoek and D Andrej Sustr. ... Lightning C Cedric Paquette appeared in his 200th career game. ... Lightning C Tyler Johnson scored his 98th career goal to tie Chris Gratton for ninth on the franchise all-time list.

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