By Brian Hall
PA SportsTicker Staff Writer
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Ticker) — Facing a one-goal deficit and
having lost three of four games on the current homestand, the
Minnesota Wild needed a spark. It came in an unlikely way.
Mikko Koivu’s sliding goal six minutes into the third period
gave the Wild a come-from-behind 4-2 victory against the Tampa
Bay Lightning on Friday in a rare afternoon contest.
“We were not happy with the first two periods,” Minnesota
goaltender Niklas Backstrom said. “Everyone wanted to step up. I
want to step up and play big. You just try to go out there, do
your best and stay focused. We got a good period and we got a
Koivu’s highlight goal – his sixth of the season – capped the
rally as the Wild entered the third period trailing, 2-1.
The Finn slid across the slot and was tripped by a pair of Tampa
Bay defenders. As he was falling to the ice, Koivu was able to
slip the puck under the left pad of 6-4 goaltender Mike Smith,
who had dropped to block the shot.
“Right now, we are just a little step behind,” said Smith, who
stopped 29 shots. “For 40 minutes, we were great. Mentally, I
don’t know if we get tired. We just have those lapses during
games and we’ve got to find a way to get out of those.”
Owen Nolan scored in the first period for the Wild before James
Sheppard tallied 2:10 into the third to tie the contest. Eric
Belanger added an empty-netter with 23 seconds remaining.
Minnesota won for the first time since December 29 when trailing
after two periods.
“I think we played a little soft in the second period,” Wild
coach Jacques Lemaire said. “I know the guys were talking about
it between periods. In the third, I think we came out more
solid. Everyone was skating hard, a lot more than in the
Marc-Andre Bergeron and Antti Miettinen had two assists for the
Wild while Sheppard also picked up an assist for his first
two-point game since January 10.
Sheppard notched his second goal of the season, deflecting
Bergeron’s slap shot from the point past Smith.
Tampa Bay failed to convert a 5-on-3 late in the third period,
despite peppering Backstrom with six shots during the two-man
Backstrom recorded 19 of his 35 saves in the third period. He
is 3-0-0 all-time against the Lightning, having allowed just
four goals in the three games.
“I think it was good for us to get some emotion out there and
play with heart,” Backstrom added. “We showed that we are here
and that we really care about each other in the locker room and
that we want to win.”
Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata scored for Tampa Bay, which has one
win in its past nine games.
Smith stopped 29 shots, but it was not enough to prevent the
Lightning from falling to 1-2-3 since Rick Tocchet replaced
Barry Melrose as coach on November 14.
“It’s disappointing because we had a really good second,”
Tocchet said. “It’s just seems like we are waiting for
something bad to happen instead of just sticking to what we are
trying to do. A couple of guys with the deer-in-the-headlights
look, we can’t have that. We have to keep attacking.”
Malone’s controversial goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead 9:51
into the second.
Standing alone in front of Backstrom, Malone missed the puck on
a centering pass.
But as Backstrom tried to clear the puck out of the crease,
captain Vincent Lecavalier came crashing into Backstrom and
cleared an opening for Malone, who flipped the puck into the
open net for his sixth of the season.
“Vinny kind of cleared everyone out of there for me and I just
put it into the open net,” Malone said. “We’re putting pucks on
net and trying to get those dirty goals like that. I think
tonight, the power play, the big 5-on-3 at the end, has got to
get the job done. It didn’t.”