Back-to-back situations are always tough outs.
But, put as Jon Cooper would in his post game presser, it's tough to imagine the Tampa Bay Lightning coming into the Pepsi Center to face a Colorado Avalanche team that has been reeling all season long, give up just 18 shots, score four goals ... and lose.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened.
Nathan MacKinnon picked a hell of a time to break out of a big goal-scoring slump, beating Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy three times on just three total shots on goal.
Ondrej Palat opened the scoring in the game, bucking a recent trend on the now-completed Western Conference road trip. He finished a nifty give-and-go move with Tyler Johnson off the rush following a Colorado turnover at their own blue line.
That's when MacKinnon -- taken two spots ahead of his former teammate and current Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin -- went to work.
The first goal came off a seemingly harmless play; Tampa Bay dumped the puck in deep and then looked to work it back into the high slot for an attempt at the net. MacKinnon broke free, accepted an outlet pass, and flashed elite speed splitting Nikita Nesterov and Jason Garrison on the way to burying a difficult backhand shot. Neither defensemen was really caught out of the play pinching irresponsibly; rather, it was a simple case of a terrific play by a very skilled player. That tied the score heading into the second period.
MacKinnon would add his second on the night on a deflection of a Ryan O'Reilly shot to give the Avs the lead on another tough chance for Andrei Vasilevskiy to save. Matt Duchene followed that up less than a minute later, cashing in on an egregious own-zone mistake by Nesterov, who coughed the puck up giving up a terrific chance that Duchene did not squander, giving the Avs a 3-1 lead.
The Lightning answered, capitalizing on a similar Avs turnover with the rebound of a long Nikita Kucherov wrister tapped home by Tyler Johnson to bring the Bolts back within a goal.
The own-zone blunders would continue when Victor Hedman got caught up ice pressuring the puck carrier leaving MacKinnon streaking in alone on Vasilevskiy to complete the hat trick and put the Avs up a pair heading into the final period.
The Lightning seemed to be pressing to claw back into the game in the third until Avs converted yet again on a counterattack rush following a misplay by the Bolts. Alex Tanguay finished a tap-in chance in tight on Vasilevskiy off a feed from Dennis Everberg to give the home squad a three-goal lead to sit on with just about a half a period left to play. Tampa Bay amped up the pressure in the final frame, and the Bolts made a game of things -- scoring twice in the final 9 minutes -- but they failed to equalize and will head back to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena after a 3-2-0 road trip to the West.
- The first place to look in a game where a team gives up 5 goals is the goaltender, but it's difficult to find too much fault in Andrei Vasilevskiy's game. He faced just 18 shots on the night, but at least a half a dozen off the rush, where the Avs excelled. You'd like to see your goaltender maybe come up with one of the 5 -- if he had, the Lightning might have stolen a point -- but smarter plays all around would have limited the breakaways and rush chances that ended up being Avs goals more often than not.
- As always, there's a general sense that someone specific must be blamed for all goals against. In reality, the defense was poor and so was the goaltending. No one gets a pass when you give up 5.
- The Lightning get to play in front of a home crowd again for the first time in five games ... but they don't get away from the Western Conference. The Chicago Blackhawks are in town on Friday night, fresh off a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, so they'll be looking to bounce back from a difficult outing just like the Bolts. The Lightning would be wise to expect the A game from the 'Hawks.
- Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan were both on the ice for 9 total unblocked shot attempts for the Avs in about 20 minutes of ice time. Three of those attempts ended up being goals against.
- Brenden Morrow drew back in over J.T. Brown, skating 7:40. He fought Nate Guenin in the 2nd period.