- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters Saturday morning that he expected a defensive struggle with the Minnesota Wild later that night. For 57 minutes, he had it nailed.

Then Dan Girardi sparked a three-goal barrage in the last 2:42, helping Andrei Vasilevskiy close out a shutout in Tampa Bay’s 3-0 win over the Wild.

“I said it was going to be a low-scoring game. We knew they were tight-checking, and we knew if we could just keep the pressure on … that was the plan,” Stamkos said.

Girardi redirected Brayden Point’s pass behind goalie Alex Stalock to start the scoring, and Tyler Johnson scored 52 seconds later on a shot from the right circle. Nikita Kucherov scored into an empty net with 53 seconds left.

Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and NHL-leading 23rd victory. He has limited opponents to two or fewer goals in 11 of his past 16 starts.

Stalock made 28 saves, and Minnesota lost for the second straight night after falling 4-2 to Florida on Friday.

“There’s things that we need to do better here, starting with myself, starting with everyone,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’ve got to be better. That’s the bottom line.”

Minnesota came up empty on five power-play opportunities and Tampa Bay four through two periods. Both teams finished 0 for 6 with a man advantage, including a 1:09 stretch midway through the third period when the Lightning failed to record a shot on goal with two extra skaters.

The defensive effort showed vast improvement by the Lightning, who recently surrendered six power-play goals in a span of four periods.

“It’s a matter of if you have to block a shot, you’ve got to block a shot,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “But I think we got sticks in their lanes and then our down-ice pressure, we didn’t really let them get anything clean so they didn’t have a lot of time in the zone.”

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman gave credit where it was due.

“It was a strong day from the special teams from both ends,” he said.

NOTES: The Lightning have won five straight home games in the series, limiting the Wild to five goals in that span. … D Ryan Suter played his 200th consecutive game for Minnesota. … Cedric Paquette started at center for Tampa Bay in his 200th NHL game. . Tampa Bay is off to its best start in franchise history with 54 points through 35 games. … Johnson has scored at least one point in his past nine games (five goals, nine assists).

UP NEXT

Wild: Host Dallas on Wednesday night.

Lightning: Host Montreal on Thursday night.

___

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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