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Breathless at the end of the road; Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche preview

A mile above sea-level to end the Western Conference road trip.

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Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Where:  Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
When:7 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Mile High Hockey

Tonight the Tampa Bay Lightning end their five-game Western Conference road swing with a game aga-pant, pant, gasp... a game against the Colorado Avalanche, who are fading in the- huff, huff, huff... excuse me, fading in the Central Division standings. The Avs cling to a slim hope of securing the final WI-pant, gasp, huff... I'm sorry; they cling to a slim hope of securing the last wild card slot in the West. They're seven points behind that final wild card slot. (Gasp, gasp, gasp, pant, pant, huff... THUD!)

The Lightning get taxed twice competing in this one. It's not just the flip-side of back-to-back games (following up last night's victory over the Coyotes) but also the Bolts going a mile-high in the sky; the air is thinner, and the time to adjust to the Denver atmosphere is negligible. Basically, the Bolts are worn out from last night, and while they will run out of gas at one point or another tonight against the Avalanche, it'll happen sooner than later. The Lightning's all-time record against the Avalanche in Denver reflects it - 3 wins total, 12 losses, 2 ties (though the reference site ranks overtime losses and shootout losses as losses, period).

Andrei Vasilevskiy will likely start in net for the Lightning tonight (as Ben Bishop went last night), but it's a question if Brendan Morrow or Luke Witkowski will find their way into the lineup as fresh-bodies; the last time Tampa Bay played in Denver is why you should deem it questionable. Tampa Bay also played back-to-back games last year (starting in Dallas and then flying to Denver) and the lineup stayed the same between the two games (including Ben Bishop starting in net both nights). Seeing this is the fifth game for the Lightning in the past week (as well as the latter half of back-to-back games) it'd likely be wiser to get the fresher bodies into the lineup.

Rookie Jonathan Drouin has 24 points on the season, playing bottom-six minutes most of the time. He's also an even plus/minus. On the other hand, his former teammate and his friend Nathan MacKinnon has all of 32 points on the season while playing top-six minutes; 9 goal and 24 assists. Some critics have been quick to jump on Drouin as a bust because of his lack of lighting the lamp... But with the Lightning's offensive output in general, he doesn't have to be the one scoring. MacKinnon gets a free pass because it's just a sophomore slump. Certain players rise when their teams struggle, or are looked at to raise their franchises game... That's a perspective that MacKinnon should be subjected to (as he was drafted as the franchise player in 2013). Drouin was projected to be the compliment / wingman for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos - and the team hasn't inserted him into that situation, thus the muted expectations that people should have for Drouin.

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