Cal Clutterbuck scored a shorthanded goal to turn the momentum of the game, and Niklas Backstrom turned aside 32 of 33 shots as the Minnesota Wild defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
With the victory, Minnesota moved into a tie with the Chicago Blackhawks for the Western Conference lead with 31 points.
After a scoreless first period, Steven Stamkos gave Tampa Bay a lead early in the second. He gathered the puck at center ice and rumbled into the Wild zone along the right wing side. As he got to the right faceoff dot, Stamkos unleashed a shot that beat Backstrom high for his 15th of the season to give Tampa a 1-0 lead 5:53 into the second period.
Just 41 seconds after the goal, the Lightning were controlling play and had a chance to extend their lead when the Wild's Matt Cullen went to the box for a slashing minor. That's when Mikko Koivu and Clutterbuck went to work on the penalty killing unit.
Minnesota cleared the puck the length of the ice and as Eric Brewer went back to retrieve it, Clutterbuck looked as if he was going to head behind the net to forecheck the Bolts' defender. Feeling the pressure, Brewer fumbled the puck out in front of his own net, where Koivu picked it up. As Brewer scrambled towards the puck in an attempt to make up for his mistake, Koivu spotted Clutterbuck to the right of Garon and hit him with a pass. Clutterbuck cut across the front of the crease and with the goaltender making a desperate, diving attempt to make the save, his shot slid just under Garon's outstretched stick for the shorthanded tally for his seventh of the season and NHL-leading third while a man short.
The goal opened the game up, and the Wild would get another series of opportunities. Kyle Brodziak had two breakaway chances, hitting the post on one and having Garon stop him on the other.
Minnesota would take the lead late in the middle frame, when Nick Johnson fed Pierre-Marc Bouchard at the right circle. Bouchard's one-timer beat Garon for his third of the year, giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
Ryan Shannon had a chance to tie the game on a breakaway with a half minute left in the second period, but Backstrom kicked out the left pad to make the save.
Early in the third, Stamkos drew a tripping minor on Minnesota's Dany Heatley. On the ensuing power play, Martin St. Louis charged through the slot and appeared ready to shoot the puck. Instead, the crafty winger slid a flat pass over to Stamkos at the left circle. Ex-Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin may have saved a goal, sprawling between Stamkos and the net, and the sniper's shot floated harmlessly wide to the right of the open upper half of the cage.
Midway through the stanza, Teddy Purcell sent a perfect backhanded saucer pass from the left wing to Stamkos to Backstrom's left. Stamkos sent a one-timer towards the open side of the net, but was stymied by Backstrom's quick left pad.
When Koivu hit the empty net from center ice with Garon pulled for an extra attacker, he guaranteed Tampa would remain the only NHL team to not lose a one-goal game in regulation this season. It was Koivu's fourth of the year and 100th of his career, and provided the final margin of 3-1.
Backstrom held the Lightning at bay in the third, stopping all 13 shots in the final period to improve his record to 8-5-2. Tonight's game was a good sign after he was torched for three goals last night on just eight Calgary Flames' shots, and promptly yanked after just 8:45 in the first period.
Garon made 21 saves on the night, but saw his record drop to 5-4-1.