ST. PAUL, Minn. — As good as the Lightning felt about itself during its two-game winning streak, Friday's matchup with the Western Conference-leading Wild was going to be a measuring stick.
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"It's going to show us where we are," defenseman Victor Hedman said.
And the Lightning's 2-1 shootout loss at the Xcel Energy Center revealed that the preseason Stanley Cup favorite might still have a winning run left in it. Tampa Bay (24-24-7) put together another strong, engaged performance, holding its own against one of the best teams in the league. Mikko Koivu scored the only shootout goal to seal Minnesota's win.
But the Lightning got an impressive point, giving it five in its past three games. It is important for the Lightning to follow up this effort tonight in Winnipeg, Tampa Bay's final game before a five-day bye week.
This one might not have been close had it not been for goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was the best Lightning player on the ice with 37 saves. It was his first start in eight days. He surprisingly got the nod over Ben Bishop, who had been on a roll, coming off a shutout win Tuesday against the Kings. But it turned out to be the right decision.
"(Vasilevskiy) was great," defenseman Anton Stralman said. " 'Vasy' came up big time for us."
Vasilevskiy was at his best in the first period, keeping the Lightning in the game with saves on quality Minnesota chances. Tampa Bay came out with good jump but wasn't able to muster much offensively against Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk, one of the best in the league. It didn't help that the Lightning was playing without center Tyler Johnson, who was out with an undisclosed injury.
The Wild struck first with six minutes left in the second period. Wing Nino Niederreiter pounced on a rebound in the slot late in a power play and backhanded the puck in.
But the Lightning answered three minutes later. Rookie center Brayden Point redirected a wrist shot from defenseman Jason Garrison through Dubnyk, tying the score. Four of Point's six goals this season have come off deflections.
Vasilevskiy made sure the Lightning remained tied in the third, making a huge stop on hard-charging wing Zach Parise with four minutes to go. Vasilevskiy then robbed center Mikael Granlund two minutes later on a 2-on-1. He stoned Parise again in overtime. He fittingly ended overtime with a buzzer-beating glove save.
Tampa Bay moved to within five points of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, with one game in hand. There are still several teams left for the Lightning to climb past, but Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said to watch out for it.
"I just know the last two years, they were in the Stanley Cup final and conference final. They're a good team," Boudreau said. "They're starting to feel it right now."
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