TAMPA, Fla. — It defies logic. You simply shouldn’t be able to come back in the fashion the Wild consistently managed to this season. Yet, there the Wild were on Sunday night at Amalie Arena, showing why many consider them a legitimate contender this season.
This time around, the Wild found a way to pull themselves out of the depths of despair in the final minutes against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Trailing by a pair of goals late in regulation, the Wild somehow managed to force overtime before falling 5-4 in a shootout.
“It shows maybe we’re in good shape,” joked Joel Eriksson Ek, who scored the game-tying goal with less than a minute to go in regulation. “No, we believe in it and we work. We talk about it and so far it’s been good. Hopefully we can keep it up if needed.”
Unfortunately for the Wild, they lost in the shootout with Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala, and Kirill Kaprizov failing to convert on their attempts. Meanwhile, the Lightning got the only goal of the shootout from captain Steven Stamkos.
“We really liked the way we played,” Marcus Foligno said. “We are a team that doesn’t quit and keeps coming back no matter what the score is.”
That said, coach Dean Evason joked that he has a love-hate relationship with the Wild consistently mounting comebacks.
“We hate doing what we keep doing,” Evason said. “We don’t want to do it. But we love the resilience. We don’t quit.”
That’s proved to be the case for much of this season, including in both games of a back-to-back over the weekend. After falling behind on Saturday night, the Wild battled back before losing to the Florida Panthers. They followed a similar script against the Lightning.
It was a disastrous start as Alex Goligoski got called for high sticking 12 seconds into the game. That put the Lightning on the power play and center Anthony Cirelli quickly cashed in with a deflection to make it 1-0.
It got worse from there for the Wild as winger Pat Maroon helped the Lightning stretch the lead to 2-0 midway through the first period, beating Kaapo Kahkonen with a backhanded shot.
“It’s not like we are just waiting to get behind and then start getting our game going,” Foligno said. “It’s just the way the games have gone.”
Not surprisingly, the Wild responded with a goal from Foligno late in the first period to make it 2-1, then a goal from Brandon Duhaime early in the second period to tie the game at 2-2. Frankly, the Wild were dominating the game at that point, then out of nowhere Cirelli found the back of the net late in the second period to push the Lightning in front 3-2.
“We had control of the game,” Evason said. “It was like, ‘OK. This is phenomenal. We are playing against the Stanley Cup champs and we are controlling the game. And then I guess that’s why they’re Stanley Cup champs. They just kept coming.”
After a back-and-forth start to the third period, winger Alex Barre-Boulet scored for the Lightning to make it 4-2. That set the stage for the Wild to pull off their latest comeback with a goal from Fiala to make it 4-3, then a goal from Eriksson Ek a couple of minutes later to tie the game at 4-4. Those goals came with Kahkonen pulled in favor of an extra attacker.
Why do the Wild work so well 6-on-5?
“I don’t know,” Evason said. “Maybe at the end we simplify it a little bit more. We just get pucks up at the top and we control. But we don’t try to do too much with it. We are just trying to control the puck and get it to the net.”
Whatever the Wild are doing, it’s working at the moment, and they aren’t going to argue with the results.
“Clearly we want to play with a lead and we want to play right,” Evason said. “We have to learn how to do that and we will. In the meantime, we were pretty excited about how hard we pushed to come back for each other.”