ST. PAUL, Minn. – Jared Spurgeon spent a month watching the Minnesota Wild from the press box. When he returned to action Tuesday night, he didn’t waste any time making an impact.
Spurgeon had two assists in his return from injury, Darcy Kuemper made 34 saves and the Wild defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1.
One of Minnesota’s top defencemen, Spurgeon was placed on injured reserve Jan. 4 after he hurt his left foot against Buffalo. While the Wild went 8-4-2 in his absence, they were eager to get him back in the lineup—and he was eager to get back into the flow.
“I think there’s lots of adrenaline that helps you,” Spurgeon said. “At the start I was a little nervous being off for a month, but they threw me right out there for the opening shift and that helped me really calm down and get my feet wet for that first one.”
Spurgeon got started early, setting up Nino Niederreiter for his fifth goal of the season 9 seconds into a power play in the first period. Early in the third, Spurgeon helped the Wild double their lead when he fed Dany Heatley in the slot for his 11th.
Spurgeon ended up playing 21:12, third-most among Minnesota defencemen.
“He’s taken really good care of himself while he’s been out,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “To be able to come in and play at the level that he did tonight just shows you how smart of a player he is.”
The Lightning pulled within a goal with just more than 6 minutes to play when Valtteri Filppula tipped in Martin St. Louis’ pass at the goalmouth for his 20th of the season. Tampa Bay buzzed around the net the rest of the way, but Kuemper stopped Alex Killorn and St. Louis from in close, and Tyler Johnson’s shot hit the post in the final 40 seconds.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper was hoping to see a little more fire out of his club at the end of a 1-3 road trip.
“I don’t know how much courage we had going to the net tonight, until the end,” Cooper said. “Hence, it’s shocking where our goal was scored, standing right in front of the net.”
While the Lightning are still clinging to second place in the Atlantic Division, goalie Ben Bishop said they’ll welcome a return home for two games before the Olympic break.
“I don’t know if you want to say we’re tired, but it’s been a long road trip,” Bishop said. “We don’t want to make excuses, but we’ve got to be better.”
Bishop, who finished with 24 saves, was tested often throughout the first two periods, stopping Zach Parise on a breakaway with 5 minutes to play in the first period and stoning Mikael Granlund on a point-blank backhand early in the second. Bishop was shaken up midway through the second when Parise fired a slap shot that hit the goalie in the head, but he remained in the game.
Meanwhile, Kuemper made a nifty glove save to stop Johnson on a breakaway late in the second and stood tall all night in his 11th straight start, a franchise record for rookie goalies. The Wild are 6-3-2 in that span, but Yeo was impressed with how Kuemper rebounded from his last two starts, a loss at Colorado in which he was pulled and an overtime defeat at Calgary.
“How do you come back to the rink the next day and be mentally tough enough to come in and perform at the level that you need to? That’s what was very impressive about him tonight,” Yeo said. “I liked his game an awful lot.”
While the Wild got Spurgeon back, they had another setback on the blue line 2 minutes into the game when defenceman Marco Scandella got tangled up with Johnson.
Scandella skated off the ice with assistance, favouring his right leg, and did not return. Yeo labeled him “doubtful” for Minnesota’s pre-Olympics finale Thursday against Nashville.
NOTES: Filppula returned after missing Saturday’s game at Montreal with a lower-body injury. … St. Louis’ assist gave him 966 points, moving him past former Canadiens great Maurice Richard into 85th place on the NHL’s career list.