The Minnesota Wild just wished they would have started better. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier each had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay, which ended Minnesota’s eight-game home winning streak with a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
“We’ve been down this road before where we get a big win, but we’ve got to follow it up with another one, and another one, and another one,” said defenceman Dan Boyle, who also scored for the Lightning to help them improve to only 6-10-1 in their last 17 games.
Marc Denis stopped 29 shots to contribute toward the rare road-team victory at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild have an NHL-high 17 wins.
“You just can’t play up and down against that team, trying to exchange chances,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “They have smart players, and they have scorers, too.”
Namely St. Louis and Lecavalier, who were part of a line that Minnesota goalie Manny Fernandez praised as being on a “different planet” in the first period. Lecavalier ended a four-game scoring drought, his longest since a six-game skid in November. He has 22 goals, and St. Louis has a team-high 26.
“It’d be nice to get on a run here,” St. Louis said. “We just can’t fall in love with ourselves after a big game. We just have to keep playing hard.”
Linemates Mark Parrish, Pavol Demitra and Mikko Koivu kept up their quality play. Parrish and Demitra each had a goal and an assist, and Koivu assisted on both of those scores.
Demitra brought the Wild within 3-2 off a rebound of Koivu’s shot with 6:15 remaining, and Parrish nearly tied it with about four minutes remaining on a wrist shot from the circle that hit the post. Denis made 13 saves in the final frame, when Minnesota snapped to life following two rather listless periods.
“The breaks tend to happen to the team that’s working the hardest, I guess, and that wasn’t us until the last 20 minutes,” Parrish said.
After an early flurry, the Wild went more than 14 minutes without a shot in the first period until Branko Radivojevic’s breakaway attempt was blocked by Denis. They found themselves trailing 2-0.
St. Louis scored first, on a short-handed shot, and Boyle followed about five minutes later with a beautiful left-right move to fake out Koivu – the last defender between Boyle and Fernandez, who couldn’t glove the slap shot by Boyle.
“You can’t give teams a lead like that and let them get a grip on us early on. It’s too hard to come back against teams when you get yourself in a hole like that,” Parrish said.
Parrish, hanging near the crease where he does his best work, put a perfect redirection on a pass from Demitra in the second period to bring Minnesota within one. After a slow start, Parrish and Demitra, two of the Wild’s biggest summer additions, have started to produce like they’re being paid to do. After Wednesday’s practice, Lemaire described the improvement in their play as a “night and day” difference.
The Parrish-Demitra-Koivu line is one reason why Minnesota has been extra cautious about bringing standout Marian Gaborik back from his groin injury until he’s fully conditioned.
Tampa Bay, which got two assists from Paul Ranger, extended the lead to 3-1 on a power play late in the second period. Lecavalier showed off his torpedo shot on a tricky attempt through traffic that Fernandez barely budged on.
“Sometimes a challenge is what a team like ours needs,” Denis said. “It’s obviously too early to call, but hopefully in a few games from now I’ll be able to tell that this was the start of something new.”
Notes: Parrish, who has 12 of his 14 goals at home, also has nine goals in his last 13 games after scoring only five times in his first 28. Demitra has 12 points in 13 games since returning from a concussion that kept him out for 2½ weeks. … Former Wild defenceman Filip Kuba, an all-star game selection in 2004, had a three-game goal streak end for the Lightning. … Here’s an NHL scheduling quirk: This was the first meeting between these teams since Oct. 25, 2003, at Tampa Bay, and their first matchup in Minnesota since Dec. 10, 2002. The first regular-season win in Wild history was recorded against the Lightning on Oct. 18, 2000.