MINNEAPOLIS -- So much has been made the past month about the injuries to Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Josh Harding, it was all but forgotten how important Jared Spurgeon is to the Wild lineup.
The diminutive defenseman averages the third-most ice time on the team and even in the game he broke his foot Jan. 2 against Buffalo, Spurgeon gutted through a 27-minute effort with a plus-3.
Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Spurgeon returned after missing 14 games and didn't miss a beat by assisting on both goals in a 2-1 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
In the penultimate game before the 20-day Olympic break, the Wild snapped a two-game losing streak to gain ground on the wildcard team right behind, the slumping Vancouver Canucks.
Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley scored the goals and 6-foot-5 Darcy Kuemper won a nice goalie duel versus his 6-foot-7 Lightning counterpart Ben Bishop.
Kuemper, who had given up eight goals in his past two starts, rebounded with 34 saves. Bishop, a potential Vezina Trophy contender who entered the game with a 27-7-4 record, 1.98 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, made 24.
Just as Spurgeon returned to the lineup though, his reunion with partner Marco Scandella lasted all of 55 seconds.
Scandella skated into the offensive zone, clipped legs with Lightning forward Tyler Johnson and fell to the ice awkwardly. Both knees bent abruptly, especially his right. He had to be helped off the ice by teammates Jason Zucker and Heatley with what looked like a serious injury.
There was no update as of game's end, but Scandella didn't return and the Wild was forced to play 58 minutes with five defensemen.
League ice-time leader Ryan Suter, not shockingly, took the brunt of the ice time, logging 23 minutes, 13 seconds through two periods and 34:31 for the game as the defense pairs were a mishmash the rest of the game. It was the 28th time in 58 games Suter has logged 30-plus minutes.
The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead nine seconds into a first-period power play. Jason Pominville was crushed behind by Radko Gudas for a boarding penalty and the Wild instantaneously made Tampa Bay pay when Niederreiter scored his 10th goal off Spurgeon's rebound to snap a 12-game drought.
It was Niederreiter's first goal since scoring a third-period tying goal and shootout winner Jan. 7 in Los Angeles.
After a scoreless middle frame, Spurgeon's impressive hustle set up Heatley for his 11th goal. Spurgeon battled his way into the offensive zone, was knocked off the puck by J.T. Brown, but stole it right back from Alex Killorn. Moments later, Spurgeon fed Heatley at the goalmouth.
The Lightning made it a game by spoiling Kuemper's shutout bid with 6:07 left. Valtteri Filppula was left alone in front of the crease by Kyle Brodziak and deflected Martin St. Louis' flip for his 20th goal.
The Wild had a plethora of scoring chances on this night.
It started with Niederreiter backhanded a shot off the post, Zach Parise missing a net on a tic-tac-toe with Pominville and Mikael Granlund and Parise being denied by Bishop on a breakaway while being hooked from behind by defenseman Victor Hedman.
In the second period, the Wild came to play right from the opening faceoff. Granlund was denied twice on his first two shifts by Bishop, who also stoned Jason Zucker.
Later, Heatley connected with Zucker for a breakaway, but the youngster backhanded a shot wide of the cage.
On a power-play later, Bishop stopped Parise, Granlund and Pominville and Jonas Brodin missed the net on a great try minutes later. On a 4-on-4, Parise led Spurgeon for a chance, but Bishop again made the nice stop.
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