TAMPA – The strategy wouldn’t be conventional, but perhaps removing the goalie for an extra attacker in the first period would translate the Wild’s prowess late in the game earlier into action so the team doesn’t chase a back to third.
“I’ll ask our analytics [guru] Mat Sells if it’s doable, “coach Dean Evason joked.” I don’t know if he has any numbers on that. “
The point is, the Wild are thriving in desperation mode, a talent that was on display over the weekend in the first two stops of their three-game road trip.
While the team failed to complete the rally on Saturday in Florida, the Wild took one step closer the next day against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning and scored a point for their efforts in a 5-4 shootout loss ahead of 19,092 at Amalie Arena which was the first overtime game the team has lost this season.
“We hate doing what we keep doing, but we love what we keep doing,” Evason said. “We don’t want to do it, but we love the resilience. We don’t give up.”
Dropping two goals in the third, the Wild scored twice with goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen on the bench to force overtime: Kevin Fiala converted a receiving shot at 17 minutes, 12 seconds before Joel Eriksson Ek stuffed a puck tight with 39 seconds to go.
It was the Wild’s seventh goal in the last minute of regulation and the team’s seventh 6-5 goal. Both punctuate the NHL.
A day earlier, the Wild scored two last-minute goals 6-5 before falling narrowly 5-4 to the NHL leading Panthers.
“We are a team that don’t give up and keep coming back regardless of the score,” said Marcus Foligno.
After a scoreless overtime that included a power play from the Wilds, only Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos scored in a shootout. Mats Zuccarello, Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov were stopped by Brian Elliott of the Lightning, who made 28 saves. Kahkonen had 20 in his fourth start.
But the push to get to this point was impressive.
“We have acquired skills. We see it every day in training, ”said Matt Dumba, who was on the ice for Eriksson Ek’s tying goal. “We have guys who are selfless and who are going to play games, and we all shoot each other. Just a belief in each other and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
As is usually the case with these frenzied finishes, the Wild trailed early.
Anthony Cirelli deflected on a Victor Hedman point shot at 1:06 in the first period before Pat Maroon capitalized on an ascending backhand at 11:14.
Before the end of the first game, the Wild got a power-play goal when Foligno fired a Dumba shot at 2:40 PM. Both teams went 1 to 4 on the power play.
In the second, the Wild took control and were rewarded with the equalizer – a landing shot from Brandon Duhaime at 3:56.
This was only the third time in franchise history that the Wild have erased multiple multiple-goal deficits in the same game.
“We had control of the game,” Evason said. “It was like, ‘OK, this is phenomenal. We play against the Stanley Cup champions, and we control the game.’ Guess that’s why they’re Stanley Cup champions. They kept coming too. “
Cirelli’s second goal of the game regained the advantage for the Lightning with 2:53 left in the second, then Alex Barre-Boulet provided an insurance scorer at 9:19 in the third.
No problem for the Wild.
Kahkonen went to the bench with 5:02 to play, this after the Wild pulled Cam Talbot with 5:09 to play against Florida, and Fiala and Eriksson Ek delivered; Eriksson Ek’s goal was the second he scored in the last minute of regulation time this season.
The momentum from those goals didn’t push the Wild past the Lightning, but it did prove the team’s motivation.
And if that tenacity starts to happen sooner, the Wild could become even more difficult to handle.
“Obviously we want to play with a lead and we want to play well,” said Evason. “But we have to learn how to do this, and we will. But in the meantime, we were pretty excited about the way we tried to get back for each other.”
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