The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche played a surprisingly close, high-scoring game that ultimately ended in a 6-5 victory for the Bolts. The Lightning walked away with two points, and hopefully something even more important: the reminder that no lead is safe and the game is not over until the clock runs out.
The First Period
The start of the game is all defense. The Lightning kill two penalties with the clinical precision we have come to expect from them. For me, the best part of the penalty kill is watching Yanni Gourde. He consistently harasses the opposition, hunting for a short-handed goal. It adds an additional element of danger to an already lethal PK unit.
The Lightning pick up the pace in the second half of the first period, applying more pressure and testing Jonathan Bernier, who is holding up (so far...) We end the first knotted 0-0.
The Second Period
The Bolts start the second period with another successful penalty kill. It would be better to stay out of the box, but this is the next best thing.
Cory Conacher gets into a scrap with Blake Comeau, earning matching minors and starting a two minute stretch of 4-on-4.
Victor Hedman gets the puck in the Avalanche zone, but skates back into his own end, allowing the Lightning to get a line change. He watches, waits patiently for Nikita Kucherov to get into the right spot and send a perfect pass to him, setting up a gorgeous goal.
19 seconds later, Tyler Johnson skates deep into the Avalanche zone and sends a pass to Anton Stralman who relentlessly attacks the net until he scores.
Less than two minutes later, Kucherov decides he owes Hedman for that pretty goal earlier. He returns the favor with this beautiful give-and-go. Hedman moves to the outside freezing the defenders and finds the back of the net. It’s 3-0 Lightning.
The Bolts are not done yet. One minute later, Conacher, Alex Killorn, and Gourde combine for a goal. The Bolts are up 4-0.
The Lightning dominate the first stretch of the second period, but Gabriel Landeskog manages to get one past Peter Budaj. It’s 4-1. This is the danger of a large lead - the Avalanche have nothing to lose. They’re going into full-attack mode, desperate to close the gap and get back into this game. The Bolts need to maintain a strong defensive presence if they want to walk away from tonight’s match-up with two points.
Erik Johnson cross-checks Vladislav Namestnikov into the boards. This is the other problem with having a huge lead - sometimes opponents start playing dirty out of frustration. Namestnikov briefly heads to the locker room before returning the ice (Bolts fans breathe a collective sigh of relief - we’re not interested in having another injury-plagued season). Erik Johnson receives a slashing, boarding, and game misconduct as he is ejected from the game. The Lightning proceed to do absolutely nothing with their five minute power play.
The Third Period
The Bolts start the third period strong. Brayden Point and Gourde outwork a handful of Avalanche players to find Stralman who picks up his second goal of the game.
Five minutes into the third period, Landeskog redirects a shot from Tyson Barrie to bring the the Avalanche within 3.
Tyler Johnson takes a slashing penalty. This time the Avalanche capitalize on the man-advantage and Landeskog gets his hat-trick goal. The Bolts lead is cut to just two goals.
A few minutes later, the Lightning take yet another penalty - this time on Cedric Paquette. The penalty kill starts strong with Johnson streaking down the right wing side and almost setting up Killorn for a short-handed goal - then things come apart quickly and Nathan MacKinnon finds the back of the net. The Bolts once led this game by four goals and now just have a single goal advantage with 10:30 left to play.
In the span of ten seconds, Patrik Nemeth and Killorn both take penalties (seriously, what’s happening here?) We have about two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. The Bolts once again treat this like a power play, capitalizing with some smart puck movement from Stralman to Palat and finally to Mikhail Sergachev who finds the back of the net. The Bolts settle in with another two-goal lead. Here’s hoping they can hold onto it.
Six minutes left and Nathan MacKinnon scores for the Avalanche. Back to a one-goal lead and I am seriously stressed out. CAN YOU PLEASE FINISH THIS?
The final minutes feature of flurry of shots on both ends of the ice. The Avalanche are truly piling on the pressure and Budaj is up to the task.
The Good: Victor Hedman
Victor Hedman played a complete game. He contributed offensively and defensively. He was all over the ice, consistently making his presence known. His pass to Kucherov started the flood of scoring (including a goal of his own). He saved a sure goal from the goal line. Budaj was out of position and Hedman’s stick was wrapped up with another player, so he wisely used the side of his glove to swipe a puck away from the net.
If he had covered the puck, it would have been a penalty shot. If he hadn’t done anything, it would have been a sure goal. Hedman’s quick decision-making combined with his stellar reflexes helped keep the Avalanche off the board early. Add in everything he does throughout the game - poke-checks, jumping into the rush, power play, penalty kill - Hedman does it all exceptionally well. He is consistently impressive but he really stood out tonight as the Bolts’ best player.
Also, Brayden Point celebrated his 100th NHL game! (You didn’t seriously think I’d make it all the way through this recap without talking about him, did you?) It’s difficult to imagine it’s only his second season in the league and he’s already secured the 2C spot on such an offensively-gifted team. Congratulations Brayden! May your seven-game point streak continue!
The Bad: Too Many Penalties!
Yes, the penalty kill is superb and perhaps the holding on Hedman and the tripping on Killorn were really soft calls, but it would be great to stay out of the box. The Bolts were able to stave off the first four power play attempts, but eventually gave way on the Avalanche’s fifth man-advantage. Momentum shifted in the direction of the Avalanche from that point forward and the Bolts struggled to maintain the lead.
The Whatever: Peter Budaj
The goals don’t tell the whole story. On a couple of those shots, Budaj had no chance whatsoever. He will likely face some undue criticism for his save percentage tonight, but keep in mind he has only played five times this year. Sure, he could be a little bit better, but we’re also used to watching Andrei Vasilevskiy who is truly elite. It’s an unfair comparison. Budaj is a decent back-up goaltender. Ultimately, standing tall at the end of the game and walking away with a win will erase this forgettable performance.