After closing out a winning December on the road then getting a three-day break, the Minnesota Wild return home to Saint Paul on Wednesday night to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In a Central Division that has just six points separating third place from sixth place, the Wild fortified their third-place spot with an 12-4-0 run from Nov. 27 through year’s end. Part of that run is thanks to a six-game winning streak. Another major component is having a nearly full lineup.
On New Year’s Eve in St. Louis, Mason Shaw returned after a two-game suspension for kneeing the San Jose Sharks’ Evgeny Svechnikov. Marcus Foligno also was in the lineup following a three-game absence.
“You can’t emphasize it enough,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said. “I think some teams can be one line, two lines, three lines. We can’t. We’re a four-line team.
“Sure, Kirill (Kaprizov), (Mats Zuccarello) and (Sam Steel) get maybe a little bit more,” Evason said of the playing time. “But after that, the distribution of our minutes is pretty even and that’s how we have to play.”
The Western Conference club has earned points in 12 of the past 15 contests (10-3-2) against the Lightning. It also owns a seven-game point streak (6-0-1) since Jan. 20, 2018.
Alex Goligoski leads Minnesota with 19 points in 24 matchups against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay started its three-game trip through the Central on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over the last-place Chicago Blackhawks to improve to 6-0-0 against the division. The club is 3-3-0 in the second game of back-to-back matches, however.
The Lightning feasted on home cooking in December and bolstered their third-place position in the Atlantic Division by turning in a 10-3-0 showing overall in the month. They were 8-1-0 on home ice in December and are 15-4-1 at home this season.
Though backup goaltender Brian Elliott earned the win with 25 saves against Chicago, no Lightning player had a better December than star netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy.
In going 8-2-0 last month, the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner led the NHL with a .946 save percentage and ranked second with a 1.69 goals-against average.
In Tampa Bay’s 2-1 shootout win Thursday over the New York Rangers, Vasilevskiy stopped 45 of 46 shots in regulation and overtime and then five of six in the final session as the Lightning ended a four-game losing streak against the Rangers in the regular season.
“Obviously the goaltending was … two world-class goalies, the two best in the world probably,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant of Vasilevskiy and his opposing backstop Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers.
In nine career starts against the Wild, Vasilevskiy is 3-4-2 with a 2.53 GAA and a .918 save percentage with one shutout.
On Monday, the Lightning signed rookie defenseman Nick Perbix to a two-year extension. He debuted on Oct. 18 and has skated in 30 games, producing three goals and eight points as a regular starter in the club’s rear guard.
A native of Elk River just a half hour outside the Twin Cities, the 24-year-old Perbix — a sixth-round selection (No. 169 overall) in the 2017 draft — will be facing his hometown Wild for the first time.
In 51 outings against Minnesota, Corey Perry leads the Lightning with 41 points, including 21 goals.
–Field Level Media