October 25, 2014

While Minnesota began a three-game homestand with a defeat and the loss of its top goal scorer, Tampa Bay is concluding a four-game road swing with its top offensive threats kicking it into gear after an alarming losing streak.

The Lightning attempt to complete the trip with three wins Saturday night as the Wild try to get by without Zach Parise.

Parise is confirmed out with a lower-body injury after getting hit on his first shift of Thursday's 3-2 loss to Nashville. He returned for five more shifts, then went back to the locker room late in the first period and did not return. There's no word yet on how much time he'll miss.

"There's no excuses," said coach Mike Yeo, who expects his seven-goal scorer to be out at least through Tuesday's game against Winnipeg as the team awaits medical results. "The bottom line is we're losing Zach and we're probably going to lose some offense."

Minnesota also lost Nate Prosser to an undisclosed injury and is awaiting his results as well.

"(Thursday's) game was not good and that's all that matters," Yeo said via the team's official Twitter feed. "We have to bounce back. Obviously Zach, Pross are both hurt and will not play."

The loss of Parise could mean the Wild's questionable defensive play lately is even less likely to hold up. They've given up 18 goals in the last five games after surrendering 17 through their first seven. That's despite Minnesota (7-3-2) largely avoiding the penalty box, going short-handed once in each of its last six games while killing five of the penalties.

The Wild's 26 power-play chances against are the fewest in the league, though their 76.9 percent mark on penalty kill is among the NHL's worst.

The Lightning (7-6-2) seem to be coming around to the point of being able to exploit defensive issues. After scoring twice in a 0-3-1 skid, they've managed nine goals during the 2-1-0 start to the trip. Their coach, however, would like for the team to treat that as the norm rather than an achievement.

"Now when we do score, it's like, 'Holy cow, boys, look what we just did,'" Jon Cooper said. "We've got to wipe that mindset away."

Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov - the team's top three in goals and points last season - scored first-period goals in Thursday's 4-1 win at Buffalo, with Victor Hedman adding an empty-netter.

Johnson went without a goal through 12 games but has two in his last three, as does Stamkos, while Kucherov has three in his last four. The production - and specifically how it's coming - is beginning to impress Cooper.

"Those three goals, there was a lot of good habits and things that happened, things that we just keep pounding into our guys' head," he told the team's official website. "... Hopefully we continue to do that."

If they're able to, they'll be contributing to a bit of a slide for the Wild's Devan Dubnyk, who's given up at least three goals in each game of a 2-1-1 span without facing 30 shots for an .875 save percentage.

Counterpart Ben Bishop has lost his last four starts despite a 1.78 goals-against average. He's 2-1-0 with a 1.35 GAA and .952 save percentage as a starter against the Wild.

The clubs have split the last two season series with the home team winning all four games. The Lightning are 2-7-0 all-time in Minnesota with three straight losses, the most recent coming by a 7-2 score Oct. 25, 2014. Parise scored in both games last season, while Jason Zucker added two in Minnesota's win and enters this game with a seven-game point streak.

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