ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — All of a sudden, Tampa Bay is no longer playing like the best team in hockey.
Zach Parise scored his first goal of the season and the Minnesota Wild beat the slumping Lightning 5-2 on Saturday night.
Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser, Marcus Foligno and Jason Zucker also scored for Minnesota, playing its first game after a five-day break. Matt Cullen had an assist for his 700th career point.
Brayden Point scored twice, but the NHL-leading Lightning lost a season-high third straight. Tampa Bay has dropped four of six overall — allowing 26 goals during that stretch.
“Judging by the last couple games, tonight was a step forward even though we lost. We did a lot of good things,” Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi said.
Tampa Bay, which has a league-best 65 points, lost 5-1 to Calgary before its bye week and 4-1 to Vegas in its first game back Thursday — both at home.
Boston, which beat Montreal 4-1 on Saturday and is 12-0-4 in its past 16 games, is within three points of the Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper has no explanation for why his team has “lost our swag.”
“It’s unreal. The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. It’s just weird. We’re just out of sync. When one guy zigs, the other guy zags,” he said.
Playing the first of eight straight road games around next weekend’s All-Star Game, the Lightning got 30 saves from Andrei Vasilevskiy. He has allowed 23 goals in his past five starts, but again faced too many quality chances with the Lightning defense often out of position, outmuscled and unable to clear the puck.
Three of Minnesota’s goals came from the slot and another was from low in the right circle.
“When you leave guys in the middle open, good players in this league are going to score,” Girardi said.
Minnesota is 6-0-2 at home since Dec. 27, outscoring opponents 32-16.
With the rest of the Central Division going 8-0-1 during the Wild’s nearly week off, Minnesota knew it couldn’t ease back into action while trying to stay in the playoff chase.
“As much as the break was nice to refresh, you’re sitting there watching teams collect points. So we want to hit the ground running and understand that we need to get as many points as possible.” Cullen said.
In his eighth game back after microdiscectomy surgery in October, Parise gave the Wild a 2-0 lead late in the first period by tipping in Ryan Suter’s shot. Tampa Bay unsuccessfully challenged the call, claiming goaltender interference.
“I’ve felt good conditioning-wise and energy-wise. But like I’ve said, the puck handling stuff, that’s a little slower to come back,” Parise said. “But I thought tonight was probably the best it’s been in my short season.”
Prosser precisely put the puck between Vasilevskiy and the post for a 3-0 lead seven minutes into the second, but Point scored late to get the Lightning within two.
Point scored on a two-man advantage in the third to make it 4-2, a goal upheld after the Wild challenged for goaltender interference.
Cullen, who assisted on Foligno’s goal early in the third to make it 4-1, has 252 goals and 448 assists during his 20-season career. He received a standing ovation when the milestone was announced.
“I was kind of caught off guard,” said Cullen, who grew up in Minnesota. “I’m very proud to be from here, so it was pretty cool to have that.”
Wild G Devan Dubnyk made 21 saves and is 6-1-1 in eight games since missing six with a lower-body injury. He is 9-0-2 at home since Nov. 14. He also had an assist. … Tampa Bay has two wins all-time in Minnesota, the least amount of road wins against a single team. Its last one was April 2, 2011. . C Kyle Rau had an assist in his Wild debut.
Lightning: At the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.
Wild: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.