The Tampa Bay Lightning put a whoopin’ on the Colorado Avalanche tonight and deserved every bit of the 7-1 victory. The story entering the night was that both teams had won eight of their last ten games. But after tonight, the Avs clearly still have work to do to become real contenders.
The game featured tons of top end talent including the top three scorers in the league in Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Nikita Kucherov. Brayden Point made it four of the top six. But the difference tonight was depth. Tampa had it and Colorado didn’t.
The Lightning started strong with the first bit of sustained pressure for either side. The third and fourth lines kept the puck in the offensive zone generating some good chances. Less than three minutes into the game, the Bolts drew a penalty and went on the power play.
They didn’t waste any time grabbing an early lead. The Avs appeared to have control of the puck and looked like they would clear it but pressure from Yanni Gourde forced a poor clearing attempt that Victor Hedman was able to corral at the blue line. The scramble left the Avs out of structure and the Lightning went to their bread and butter. Hedman passed the puck to Kucherov who fed it across the ice to Stamkos and the captain buried it from his office.
Five minutes into the game, the Avs got a power play of their own but couldn’t do anything with it. The Lightning didn’t allow a single shot through to Domingue.
Minutes later, Stamkos scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway with no one near him. The Avs made a bad pass in the offensive zone that skipped over a stick near the blue line and slid cleanly to Stamkos in the neutral zone. He skated away freely with all day to put a move on goalie Semyon Varlamov and beat him on the backhand.
The Avs responded quickly on a shot by Nathan MacKinnon. It seemed fairly harmless as Domingue had plenty of time to get set and had a clear line of sight but he let it through five hole.
The Bolts got a scare late in the period when Victor Hedman appeared to hurt his arm. He was skating along the boards and for some reason, the door to the Lightning bench was slightly ajar. He slammed his elbow into the door and had to leave the ice briefly but returned and didn’t appear to be affected.
With less than five minutes to go in the period, the Bolts extended the lead to 3-1. The play started from a faceoff win with Girardi executing a give and go with Kucherov at the blue line. When Girardi received the pass back from Kucherov, he hammered the puck on net. Tyler Johnson was positioned in front of the net and put the rebound past Varlamov.
Mathieu Joseph drew another penalty against the Avalanche with three minutes to go in the period. The best chance for the Lightning came as the power play expired. J.T. Miller slid a pretty pass from behind the net to Ondrej Palat in the slot but the shot was deflected and the lead stayed at two goals heading into the intermission.
The first period was good for the Lightning. The second was even better. The Bolts came in hot with a chance for Dan Girardi after a pass from Victor Hedman but he couldn’t finish.
The fourth goal came moments later. It started with a great pass by Steven Stamkos. He fell down as he slammed on the breaks on the attack but he managed to hit Gourde with a cross ice backhand pass. Gourde then fed Killorn for an easy finish at the back door.
The Bolts nearly scored again moments later on another good pass from Hedman. This time, he hit Joseph with a pass directly in front of the net but Varlamov was able to make a save on the deflection. The pass marked another strong play from Hedman. After a slow start to the season, he’s gained steam over the last couple weeks and look dominant tonight.
Speaking of dominant, Stamkos was just showing off on his fourth point. This time, he delivered a long diagonal pass against the grain through the offensive zone to Ondrej Palat. The pass put Palat in alone on Varlamov and he scored his first goal of the season.
That was enough for Avs coach Jared Bednar who replaced Varlamov with Philipp Grubauer. It didn’t help though because Anthony Cirelli scored a well-earned goal shortly after the change. The play started with heavy forechecking by Cirelli behind the net. That forced a bad pass that Braydon Coburn collected along the boards. He threw it on net and Cirelli put the rebound past Grubauer to make it 6-1 a little over halfway through the game.
After that goal, the Lightning pulled back the reins and focused more on protecting the lead than keeping up the pressure. That allowed the Avs to start applying some sustained pressure in response but Domingue was up to the task. Colorado eventually got another power play after Stamkos made contact with Ian Cole’s head on a check. Cole wasn’t hurt on the play.
The Avs generated two good chances with Mikko Rantanen heavily involved in both. The first was a dangerous shot where he had some net available but couldn’t hit it. The second was a nice pass to the backdoor but Domingue did enough to disrupt the play and keep it out of the net.
With the penalty killed, the Lightning third line generated one more good chance before going into the intermission with a five-goal lead.
The third period didn’t feature the fireworks of the first two but the Bolts finished the job. The Avs continued their push from the end of the second period creating a good chance for Carl Soberberg. But once again, Domingue made the save. Aside from the softy to MacKinnon in the first period, he was great tonight.
The Lightning got a power play in the first half of the period and took advantage. Ondrej Palat picked up his second goal of the night and season on a pretty pass through the crease from fellow former triplet Tyler Johnson.
That would be the last goal of the game but not the last chance. After matching roughing minors to Cedric Paquette and J.T. Compher, Erik Cernak got a good look in the slot but couldn’t bury it. Later during four on four play, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov linked up for a slick passing play but Kucherov couldn’t get the shot off. Had he been able to, it would have likely been the eighth goal because Grubauer was beaten.
With less than ten minutes left in the game, Alex Killorn skated in on a breakaway after a long pass from Cirelli. Grubauer played it aggressively and poked the puck away before Killorn could take the shot. Yanni Gourde also had a good chance to extend the lead but the puck rolled of his stick following a great pass from Palat.
This was a dominant showing for the Lightning. They played one of their best games of the year. Every line contributed. Every pair did their job. Domingue was solid in net. This game was an example of what happens when Tampa hits their highest gear. Colorado has the top end talent but the Lightning’s depth outclassed them tonight.