Anchored by a 32-save performance from starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Tampa Bay Lightning picked up one of their most impressive victories of the season on Thursday evening. Matched against a Minnesota Wild team that entered the night as the number-one overall seed in the Western Conference, the Lightning were able to emerge with both a confidence-boosting win and a pair of much-needed points in the standings.
With the Lightning on an early power-play, Nikita Kucherov would quickly put the home-team ahead on a beautiful wrist shot goal from the top of the slot. The marker, his team-leading 29th of the season, continues what’s been a red-hot month of March for Kucherov.
It was less than five minutes later when the Lightning would double their lead on an excellently-timed set up by Jonathan Drouin. After winning a puck-battle in the corner, Drouin delivered a nifty cross-ice feed to defenseman Victor Hedman. The Lightning’ franchise defenseman made no mistake, blasting one past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk to extend the Tampa Bay lead to 2-0.
Midway through the second period, Kucherov would make his presence felt once again, setting up the Bolts’ third goal of the evening on a drop-pass play to defenseman Andrej Sustr. The goal, Sustr’s second of the season, would provide the Lightning with a prohibitive 3-0 lead.
With newly-minted starter Andrei Vasilevskiy in top form between the pipes, the Lightning were able to hold the Wild off the scoresheet for more than 56 minutes of action. Veteran defenseman Marco Scandella would break the shutout late in the third period, but the Minnesota comeback attempt was quickly thwarted by a Tampa Bay empty-net goal. In securing the 4-1 victory on Thursday, Vasilevskiy has now recorded a highly impressive 4-0-1 record and 1.36 goals against average in his last five starts.
The Lightning have now moved to within three points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tampa Bay will take the ice again on Saturday evening with another pivotal pair of points on the line at Amalie Arena in a showdown against the in-state rival Florida Panthers.