Kuemper, Wild ground Lightning
By Jess Myers, Sports Xchange
ST. PAUL — Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon had an immeditate impact in his long-awaited return to the rink. Spurgeon, who missed the previous 14 games with a foot injury, set up goals by right winger Nino Niederreiter and left winger Dany Heatley in the Wild’s 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
Minnesota goalie Darcy Kuemper had 34 saves as the Wild (30-21-7) won their fourth home game in a row.
Tampa Bay got 24 saves from goalie Ben Bishop, who seemed to struggle with control of the puck throughout the night. Center Valtteri Filppula scored for the Lightning (32-19-5), who have lost three of their past four games.
Both goalies were tested early, with Kuemper stopping 11 shots in the first period and Bishop denying Wild left winger Zach Parise on a breakaway 15 minutes into the game.
Just a short time later, with the Wild on the power play, Bishop knocked down a long-range shot by Spurgeon, but Niederreiter was able to swat the puck into the net before the goalie could smother it. It snapped a streak of a dozen games without a goal for Niederretier, who will skate for Switzerland in the upcoming Olympics.
Parise had the best chance to double the Wild’s lead in a scoreless second period when his rising slap shot struck Bishop in the head, stunning the goalie. After a brief stoppage, Bishop stayed in the game.
Heatley scored on the opening shift of the third period, tapping the puck past Bishop at the top of the crease after a pass across the goalmouth from Spurgeon.
Filppula’s goal, his 20th of the season, came when he redirected a shot by right winger Martin St. Louis in front of Kuemper. The Lightning had several chances to tie the score in the final minute with Bishop on the bench, including center Tyler Johnson hitting a post, but could not get the equalizer.
NOTES: Lightning RW Martin St. Louis’ assist in the third period gave him 966 career points, moving him ahead of Montreal Canadiens star Maurice “Rocket” Richard into 85th place on the NHL’s career scoring chart. ... Wild D Marco Scandella started the game on the blue line but was injured early. Two minutes into the game, Scandella was helped off the ice with an apparent lower body ailment after getting skates tangled up with Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson near the penalty boxes. ... J.T. Brown started the game at RW for the Lightning, playing his first game as a professional in his home state. Brown, the son of retired Minnesota Vikings RB Ted Brown, was the most valuable player in the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four when his Minnesota-Duluth team beat Michigan in overtime for the title in St. Paul. ... Wild LW Jason Zucker played college hockey for Lightning assistant coach George Gwozdecky when the latter was head coach at the University of Denver. ... The Lightning head back to Florida for two home games before the Olympic break, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Minnesota hosts the Nashville Predators on Thursday, then is off until a Feb. 27 game in Edmonton.