Wild at Lightning Game Preview


Minnesota Wild at Tampa Bay Lightning, 6:00pm tonight, FSN+

After Darcy Kuemper stole a game in Philadelphia, the Minnesota Wild travel to Tampa Bay looking to continue their winning streak with team dads in tow for a long weekend in Florida. The last time these teams matched up, the Wild blitzed the Lightning for 4 first period goals en route to a 7-2 victory at Xcel Energy Center. Tampa Bay has otherwise had a pretty good start to the season, as expected, and currently sits 13-6-2, second in the Atlantic division. After a disappointing showing in a victory on Thursday, the Wild will need to bring their best to beat Steven Stamkos and the talented Lightning to earn the crucial two points they need in this elongated game of catchup the Wild have played since the second week of the season.

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Game Preview

Looking at the Tale of the Tape, the Lightning are a pretty high flying bunch, and the Wild’s top tier defense will be tested early and often. The Lightning undoubtedly remember the thrashing they took in St. Paul earlier this year, and are going to be motivated to score in bunches. The Wild cannot afford to have an effort like the one we say in Philly, as Darcy Kuemper may not be able to steal two games in a row. Jonas Brodin has not joined the Wild for the Florida trip, but Mikko Koivu looks to be ready to play despite sitting much of the third period on Thursday with illness.

Line Changes-

So it looks as though with Mikko’s illness, Mikael Granlund has reinserted himself into the top line, and Koivu will now center a line featuring the red-hot Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine. Coyle stays at center with Zucker and Vanek, and an all-center fourth line of Carter, Haula and Brodziak will be featured. Actually, its the fourth line that intrigues me the most, because all three have been outstanding defensively so far this year, and with the high scoring Tampa Bay across the ice, this line will undoubtedly be matched up with Stamkos’ line whenever possible, which will be crucial to the outcome of this game.

Goaltending Matchup-

The Wild are again starting Darcy Kuemper, who had a phenomenal game on Thursday, stopping 37 of 39 shots on the way to his ninth win of the season. Kuemper sports a 2.03 Goals Allowed Average, fifth best amongst regular NHL backstops, and a .918 Save Percentage, which registers eleventh. Kuemper has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but has tempered that with a few scattered rough periods marked with some bad goals. Hopefully tonight Kuemper can keep the Wild in the game enough to squeak out another road victory against an even tougher opponent.

The Lightning will be starting their regular goalie Ben Bishop tonight, and although the team isn’t really known as a defensive dynamo, Bishop has been serviceable, with 11-3-2 record, 2,37 GAA and .914 SV%. Bishop is third in the league with 17 starts, and seventh in the league with shots faced at 465, so he’s been the workhorse of this offensive minded team all season long. Though not spectacular, the Wild will still need to work hard to get a puck past Bishop and hope Darcy Kuemper holds up his end.


Obviously, the drubbing earlier this season will be on the lips of anyone calling or even observing this game, but some games are best to be ignored. Tampa Bay’s poor early effort with a backup goaltender coming off a back-to-back in Winnipeg is likely one of those games. In fact, the third period of that game was a rather sloppy one for the Wild, and cited by Mike Yeo as such, so Tampa Bay knows they can skate with the Wild, and won’t be lacking confidence. Another fun thing added to this game is the Wild’s annual dad’s trip, where most of the fathers of the Wild made the trip and will be in attendance tonight and in Sunrise on Monday for the game against the Panthers. For those watching FSN+, prepare for lots of interviews with beaming baby boomers, and likely a mention of the late great Bob Suter and the condition of former North Stars great J.P. Parise.

All in all, I don’t think it’s a great idea to expect a great showing from the Wild tonight, in spite of the performance versus the Lightning earlier this year. If the Wild do manage to win this game, it unfortunately will look something like the game in Philly looked, but I hope I’m wrong. The key to the game for me will be Mike Yeo’s opportunities to match up that shut down fourth line of Haula, Carter and Brodziak against Stamkos’ line and the scoring potential that comes with that. I think most Wild fans would be content with a split in Florida and a 2-1 east coast road trip, but pulling out a nice victory against a quality team like Tampa Bay to add to their current winning streak would go a long ways in securing their footings amongst the top teams in the league, and help close the gap the in the Central Division for sure. Here’s to hoping.