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Wild's first win is over Lightning

Minnesota makes history, dominates Tampa Bay 6-5.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


photo
[AP photo]
Minnesota Wild's Matt Johnson and Jeff Neilsen sandwich Tampa Bay Lightning's Pavel Kubina.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For a moment before the Lightning's game against the expansion Wild on Wednesday night, Kevin Weekes thought about making history -- and how terrible that would be.

Can you imagine, he thought, what it would be like to be the team Minnesota beats for its first regular-season victory?

"There was no way we were going to be in that position at the end of the night and being all over the highlights," Weekes said.

Suffice it to say, then, Weekes did not tune into ESPN after the game because at some point, the video of the Wild's 6-5 victory in front of a delirious sellout crowd of 18,064 at Xcel Energy Center would be shown.

"Who wants to be in their history books for that?" Weekes said. "That's not a distinction we are proud of."

The Wild (1-4-1) can be proud of much that it accomplished. It overcame a furious Lightning comeback that saw Tampa Bay erase a 4-2 deficit and score three third-period goals.

It outshot the Lightning 35-24 and, despite entering the game with a 7.1 percent efficiency on the power play, went 2-for-7 and ended Tampa Bay's streak of 29 consecutive penalty kills to start the season. It also scored short-handed.

"It's nice to get the monkey off our back," Wild goaltender Jamie McLennan said. "We were building up to this first win. It's exciting. We'll savor the moment."

It can savor the efforts of Maxim Suchinsky, who had two goals and an assist, and rookie Marian Gaborik, whose two goals in a span of 90 seconds of the third period, the second an empty-netter, gave Minnesota a 6-4 lead with 58 seconds remaining.

Fredrik Modin scored with 12 seconds left to cut the final deficit to one.

The game continued Tampa Bay's recent problems with expansion teams. The Lightning was 1-3-1 last season against the expansion Thrashers.

"Don't take anything away from Minnesota," Lightning coach Steve Ludzik said. "They played hard. Minnesota is going to beat a lot of teams this year."

But Weekes, who kept Tampa Bay in the game with 29 saves, said the Lightning must shoulder some of the blame.

"They came to work hard from the middle of the second period," he said of the Wild. "If we, as a team, could have worked as hard as we could have, we wouldn't have been in that situation."

"It's the whole team that has to play for 60 minutes, and we didn't do that," Modin said.

A notable lull came when Minnesota scored three goals in 4:59 of the second period -- even strength by Cam Stewart, on a five-on-three power play by Suchinsky and short-handed by Scott Pellerin -- to take a 4-2 lead with 1:49 left in the period.

The Lightning tied the score with 5:33 remaining in the third period after goals by Todd Warriner (short-handed) and Alex Kharitonov.

"We worked hard in the third period," right wing Mike Johnson said. "We certainly expected not to lose the game. You've got to expect to come out ahead in these games, and we haven't done that yet."

At that point, the main protagonist for the Wild became Gaborik, who entered the game leading all rookies with 15 shots on goal.

He gave the Wild a 5-4 lead with 2:28 left when he batted out of midair a rebound of Filip Kuba's shot. His empty-netter was the winner, though Modin's goal kept the fans in their seats.

Also interesting was the three seconds officials put back on the clock after Modin's goal. Ludzik said he complained to the referees the clock had been running after whistles.

"Look, I understand that," he said of what he called a home-arena advantage. "But add it up over two periods and it adds up to 20 seconds."

The sum of the game's parts, though, was the Wild's first victory.

"That's a part of history," Johnson said, "we didn't want to become a piece of."

Up next:

Lightning at New Jersey, 7:30 Saturday. TV: Sunshine.

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