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Lightning Keep Playoff Hopes Alive with Win.

Following arguably their best game of the season the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to continue their great play against the Minnesota Wild.

The Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-9) continued to fight for their playoff hopes. Andrei Vasilevskiy (14-13-6 2.64 GAA) has shown the organization and fans he was ready to become the full-time starter since Ben Bishop was traded. Vasilevskiy hasn’t lost in regulation since the NHL trade deadline, and has only allowed six goals in the last four games. One of those goals came with 1:04 left in overtime against the New York Rangers Monday night at Amalie Arena. Tonight, they welcomed in the Minnesota Wild (42-16-6) and Devin Dubnyk (35-13-3 2.01 GAA). The Wild are in 1st place in the Western Conference Central Division, and are in first place in the Western Conference. The Lightning needed to continue their strong play from the Rangers game, against the best team in the west.

Tampa Bay came out keeping their momentum going from the game earlier this week. During the opening period the Bolts had some good offensive zone time in front of Dubnyk, and that momentum paid off before the midway point of the first period. Barely six minutes into the period Minnesota’s Ryan Sutter would get a two-minute penalty for tripping. With a goalie like Devin Dubnyk the Wild feel pretty comfortable even when the other team has the man advantage. Nikita Kucherov though is a special kind of player. Barely seven seconds into the power play Kucherov would get the puck past Dubnyk for a 1-0 Lightning lead.

Less than five minutes later Victor Hedman would continue his hot season as he put a shot high blocker side to give the Bolts a 2-0 lead. Both teams had their offensive zone opportunities, but in the first period it was all Vasilevskiy stopping the top team in the west.

With shots on goal favoring the Lightning heading into the second period, the Bolts looked to continue their offensive zone pressure into the second period. Early on the Bolts kept the puck deep in the Wild’s zone, even Yanni Gourde got a backhand shot on Dubnyk less than a minute into the period that was turned away by the Minnesota netminder. As the penalty ended Vlad Namestnikov would get tied up with Ryan Sutter. As he tried to get to his skates, both men still tangled would slam into the boards. Namestnikov would have to be helped off the rink favoring his left knee/leg. A few minutes later Kucherov would help the Lightning take a 3-0 lead. Tampa continuing the pressure break into the zone as Kucherov tries to split the defense, drops the puck back to an awaiting Andrej Sustr who buries it five hole for a 3-0 Lightning lead in the second. Shortly after Nino Niederreiter would have a knee to knee hit that would send Tyler Johnson to the locker room. The Bolts only suited up 12 forwards for the game, including Luke Witkowski who is a defenseman playing winger tonight. Lightning fans will remember it was Niederreiter who was blamed for Ondrej Palat’s injury last season in Minnesota. Due to the injuries to Johnson and Namestnikov Jon Cooper was forced to shuffle lines around following losing two centers. Jonathan Drouin and Gourde would chip in at the center position for the remainder of the second. While the loss of two key players, the Lightning didn’t lose much forward momentum as the went into the second intermission up 3-0.

The Bolts would start the third on the penalty kill following a late tripping call in the second period on Brayden Point. Vasilevskiy continued playing at an extremely high level in this game making great save after great save. Before the end of the second period the Lightning would announce that Tyler Johnson and Vlad Namestnikov would not return to the game due to lower body injuries. Minnesota would get extended time in the Lightning zone, but even with their players draped on top of Vasilevskiy he would make saves that a goalie his age shouldn’t be able to make. The Bolts never seemed to miss a step following the injuries. Cedric Paquette minus his stick would take Niederreiter down to the ice unfortunately, Paquette would also fall on his left leg causing the Lightning to lose yet another center with just over eight minutes remaining. With just over six minutes remaining Minnesota forward Eric Staal had a partial breakaway with Drouin on his heels. The puck would trickle past Vasilevskiy, but after review the call of no goal on the ice would stand. Shortly after that play a bad bounce off Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison’s leg would allow Marco Scandella to tap it past Vasilevskiy to end his shutout bid making it 3-1. With 2:30 remaining and the Wild on the power play, Dubnyk would rush to the bench to give the wild a two-man advantage. Tampa would burn the Wild’s power play and shortly thereafter with Dubnyk still on the bench Kucherov would get his second goal of the game with an empty netter to seal the game.

Next Up: The Florida Panthers come to Amalie Arena in a battle of playoff hopeful teams.

Three Stars of the Game

First Star – Andrei Vasilevskiy: Shut down one of the top scoring teams in the NHL with highlight reel saves all night long while allowing only one goal.

Second Star – Nikita Kucherov: Two goals, one assist to keep his hot streak rolling and the Lightning’s playoff hopes alive. Back to back 30 goal seasons and 17 points in his last eight games.

Third Star – Victor Hedman: Notched his 13th goal of the season, tied Fredrick Modin for points by a Lightning player with 286.

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