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Kucherov 3, MacKinnon 2 equals Lightning 6, Avalanche 3

Feb 15, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) is congratulated by defenseman Victor Hedman (77) and right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) after he scored a final against the Colorado Avalanche uring the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

We billed this match-up as Nikita Kucherov, the number one point man in the NHL, versus Nathan MacKinnon, the number two point man in the league, and it didn’t disappoint. Kucherov had three points to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon had two points (and a bloody nose) in the loss. Brandon Hagel, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos had multipoint nights as the Bolts picked up their third win in a row.

Clad in their new all-black third jerseys, the Lightning, who haven’t played on home ice in 13 days, got off to a fast start. The first period was tilted in their favor for most of it as they racked up 31 shots and 14 scoring chances. Despite their territorial domination, there wasn’t much scoring for either side in the first fifteen minutes.

Both goaltenders were strong and it took a bit of chicanery for the Avalanche to take the lead. After a turnover by the Lightning in the Colorado zone, they sped through the neutral zone and, as they entered the Lightning zone, Bowen Byram had the edge on Brandon Hagel and was able to tap a cross-ice feed from Mikko Rantanen past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Why did he have an edge? Well, a little grab and slingshot move in the neutral zone helped. If you ain’t cheating, you’re ain’t trying.

Bowen Byram (Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon) 1-0 Avs

The lead only lasted a few minutes as the Hockey Gods helped even things up. Kucherov rang a puck into the zone along the glass that hit a stanchion and took a right turn to the middle of the ice. Sam Girard tried to swat it out of harm’s way, but he knocked it into Brayden Point’s body and it ricocheted into the Colorado net. Just like that it was tied up.

Brayden Point (Unassisted) 1-1

Kucherov was originally awarded an assist on the play, but that was taken off as the powers that be ruled Girard had possession long enough to erase any assists by the Lightning. Kuch didn’t mind as a minute later he put home his 35th goal of the season. Anthony Cirelli and Brandon Hagel were causing a bit of chaos in the zone, which led to Kucherov getting into an open spot. Hagel fed the puck to him and Kucherov banged it into the net.

Nikita Kucherov (Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli) 2-1

The second period was a little more even between the teams. Both teams had their chances, but the goaltenders weren’t allowing much in the way of second chances. The Bolts were held to just 8 shots on goal and Justus Annunen, who finished the night with 33 saves, stopped them all. Vasilevskiy had 10 saves in the period and 28 on the night, but the Avalanche were able to sneak one past them, literally.

Old friend Ross Colton fired a puck on net that it looked like Vasy had covered, but it slowly trickled behind him. The only folks on the ice that noticed were the referee and Bowen Byram. The Colorado defender was able to poke it into the net before the Lightning recovered, and just like that it was tied up.

Bowen Byram (Ross Colton, Artturi Lehkonen) 2-2

There was a bit of bad news for both teams in the middle frame. Halfway through it Nick Paul deflected a cross-ice pass that was destined for a back-door tap-in for MacKinnon. Unfortunately for the Colorado superstar, the puck ramped off of Paul’s stick and straight into his face. MacKinnon skated off the ice leaking blood from his nose.

On his next shift Paul was tangled up with an Avalanche player along the boards and went into them awkwardly, banging his shoulder into them at a weird angle. While he skated a few times after that, he missed a couple of shifts in the second period and then the entire third period.

Early in the third period, the Lightning took their third penalty of the night, an interference call against Kucherov, and the Colorado Avalanche made them play. It was Artturi Lehkonen with a most excellent deflection in front of the net that put the Avs in the lead. MacKinnon picked up his second point of the night with an assist. Earlier in the penalty kill, Erik Cernak blocked a shot with his hand and was in distress, but would return to the game.

Artturi Lehkonen (Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin) Power Play, 3-2 Avs

So the Lightning crumbled, right? Nope. Just 20 seconds later, Kucherov hit Stamkos with a home run pass and sent The Captain in on a breakaway. As good as Annunen had been, Stamkos absolutely schooled the rookie with an inside-out move before wrapping it inside the post for his 23rd goal of the season.

Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) 3-3

The top line had been pretty solid all night long with 10 scoring chances and an expected goals share of 75.35%. They also had the game-winning goal. Brayden Point had the puck in front of the net on his backhand with Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar draped all over him. Annunen expected him to shoot and was squared up for the shot. Instead Point wrapped a pass back to an open Kucherov who buried his second goal of the night. It was an absolute beauty of a play by Point.

Nikita Kucherov (Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos) 4-3 Lightning

The Avalanche made their expected push with time winding down, and Annunen made a key stop on an Anthony Cirelli breakaway. With the goaltender on the bench, the Lightning were hunting the empty net and after missing it a couple of times, Cirelli and Nick Perbix eventually found it to pad the win.

Anthony Cirelli (Brandon Hagel, Erik Cernak) Empty Net, 5-3 Lightning

Nick Perbix (Emil Lilleberg, Mikey Eyssimont) Empty Net, 6-3 Lightning

It was the Lightning’s third win in a row and their eighth in a row at home. That streak will be challenged on Saturday as the Florida Panthers bring a 10-game road win streak into the match-up. Should be another fun game.

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