Game 27: Colorado Avalanche at Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning played at home tonight and beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-5, in a game that felt like it should have finished 6-3.
Historically, the Avalanche have been a difficult match-up for the Lightning, and prior to tonight, the Avs had won the last 6 consecutive games against Tampa Bay, including the last four that were played in Tampa.
But tonight proved differently.
Tampa Bay came out hard against the Colorado Avalanche. For the bulk of the game, the Lightning fought for the puck and battled for the win.
Bright spots in the game included Nate Boucher, sorry, Nate Thompson, who opened the scoring in the first period. For Thompson, the goal was his tenth point of the season, and a match with his previous career high in points.
Teddy Purcell notched another assist on the fourth Lightning goal, his 13th for the season and career-high. Johan Harju, called up due to Steve Downie's injury, also made an entrance, getting his first NHL point on an assist from Mattias Ritola's goal.
The Lightning didn't dominate the entire game. Judging from the scoring, the Avs came close to filling the gap more than once, with Matt Duchene's goal in the second, which raised the score to 3-2, and in the third, goals from Brandon Yip and Kevin Shattenkirk finished the game at 6-5, a slim lead for the Lightning.
However, with 18 points awarded to 13 different Lightning players, it's clear that tonight's effort was characteristic of a team.
Simon Gagne, another important name in tonight's game, took home three points overall. He assisted Martin St. Louis for the second Lightning goal, scored the fourth, and assisted Ryan Malone in the middle of the third.
Guy Boucher wasn't surprised.
"He's a real smart hockey player who was an All-Star and he won a gold medal, so he's seen so much. I think we're starting to see the real Gagne now, and he's got some smarts. The reality is he's one of our top guys."
Overall, Boucher seemed somewhat pleased with the team's play. "We played a pretty good 57 minutes," he said, though the last three minutes of the game were "not championship habits."
The elephant in the room is, of course, goaltending. Tonight wasn't an 8-1 loss, but the resulting 6-5 doesn't seem like a vast improvement when you consider goals against.
Dan Ellis said he was especially disappointed with Colorado's first goal, and recognized that goaltending is a definite challenge at the moment.
"It's the time of the season when things aren't pretty for the goaltenders, but we've got to battle out of it, just like any other player that goes through a slump. The most important thing is that the team is carrying us right now and giving us a chance to work through it, and we'll do our due diligence and get right back into it."
Regardless, Boucher commended Ellis for a key save in the third, and merited the success to the team as a whole.
It's easy to be disappointed with the Lightning, even with the win, because right now the team simply isn't as dominant as they started the season. The reality, however, is that the team is still at a disadvantaged in a number of ways. The schedule is crazy, and injuries are everywhere. What does that mean? The subtle wins and the players who are contributing are demonstrating that this team is able to fight through adversity, and is consistently pushing forward. And, well, that's something to look forward to.
The Lightning will hit the road Monday morning, beginning next week's final stretch of road games (for a while, at least). The next game is Tuesday, December 6th against the Calgary Flames. For the East coast, it'll be a late one, at 9:30 PM, so get your caffeine ready and jump by the game thread if you're planning on watching.
Avalanche vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
Mile High Hockey [SB Nation Avalanche blog]
Avalanche vs Lightning recap [TSN]