Tampa Bay Sports Day

NHL: Vasilevskiy, Lightning Tame Wild

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning, scrapping for every point in a wild-card logjam, picked up two points and perhaps some personnel losses Thursday night with one of their more impressive wins, surprising the Minnesota Wild in a 4-1 victory at Amalie Arena.

Andrei Vasilevskiy won for the fourth time in five games since taking over as Tampa Bay’s primary goaltender with the trade of Ben Bishop last week, stopping the first 28 Minnesota shots. He finished with 32 saves. Nikita Kucherov continued his hot streak, adding two goals and assist to give him nine goals in his past eight games.

There could be significant losses in the win for the Lightning, who saw three centers — Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov — go down with lower-body injuries and not return. Lightning coach Jon Cooper didn’t know the severity yet but said he’s be fortunate to get one of the three back for Saturday’s home game.

The Lightning (31-26-9) entered the night four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference, and they improved to 9-2-3 in their past 14 games. Minnesota (42-17-6) lost in regulation for the third time in the past four games, its first such stretch since early November.

“If I look back on the season, we have 31 wins and it takes character to win them all, but you have to put that one up there, especially that last 12 minutes or so with limited players,” Cooper said. “It was gritty, it was gutty, they were doing all the right things.”

Tampa Bay just missed its fourth shutout of the season, as Minnesota scored with 3:58 left in the game on defenseman Marco Scandella’s fourth goal of the season. That cut the margin to 3-1.

Kucherov scored an empty-netter, his 30th goal of the season, with 1:09 left.

Vasilevskiy is 4-0-1 in his past five games after opening 2017 with a 1-8-3 record.  The Wild have been held to five total goals in their past four games.

“We just have to bring up the compete level. That was the bottom line,” center Charlie Coyle said. “They won a lot of battles out there. … We need to find a way somehow.”

The Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 12 minutes, starting with a power-play goal by Kucherov. His shot flew past two teammates to the top right corner of the net to beat Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (25 saves).

Defenseman Victor Hedman followed with his 13th goal of the season for a 2-0 lead with 8:59 left in the first.

“For us to come through like this, it’s big for us obviously going down the stretch,” Hedman said. “We’re going to need more efforts like this to get in, but it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Tampa Bay extended its lead to 3-0 as defenseman Andrej Sustr took a drop pass from Kucherov and scored for his second goal of the season with 15:23 left in the second.

“We need to bring that compete level and work ethic,” Coyle said. “We need to get that back. Our backs were against the wall (late), but we can’t wait until the third period. We need to have a complete game. That’s how you win games in this league. We have to bring it from the start.”

Johnson and Namestnikov left with lower-body injuries in the second period, with Paquette following in the third, leaving them with three lines to rotate at the end of the game.

Namestnikov was helped off the ice with 16:42 left in the second when he appeared to have his knee pinned near the boards as he tried to stand up, and Johnson took an awkward hit from Minnesota’s Nino Neiderreiter and was face down on the ice for some time before he was helped off by trainers.

Johnson is second on the team with 19 goals and third in total points with 43. Namestnikov has nine goals and 15 assists.

NOTES: The Lightning had RW J.T. Brown and C Greg McKegg as healthy scratches. Brown has sat out two straight games and McKegg three straight after playing in his first two games since being recalled. … For the Wild, D Matt Dumba missed his second straight game due to illness, while D Christian Folin missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. C Jordan Schroeder was a healthy scratch. … Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the period that ended March 5 after tallying five goals and four assists in four games