Avalanche defensemen scored four goals, including three in the third period, to help lift Colorado to a 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night at Pepsi Center.
Nick Holden scored twice while fellow blue liners Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson also found the back of the net on plays in which they jumped into the offensive rush. Holden's first goal tied the game 3-3 at 5:12 of the third period while Johnson netted the game-winning tally with 3:55 remaining.
"I was very impressed with our 'D's' supporting the attack," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after the game. "I thought they did a good job."
Colorado defensemen now have 33 goals through 61 games this season. They only scored five times during the shortened 48-game campaign in 2012-13.
Roy said one reason for the increase in defensive scoring is that the forwards are helping more on the back end, which has allowed the defense to help the forwards up front.
"We are working as a unit of five. Our forwards are doing a really good job of supporting our 'D' defensively," Roy said. "As a coach, we love when our 'D' jump into the rush and that is what we have been doing."
Johnson's game-winner was the result of a turnover by the Lightning in their own zone and a low shot that went off goalie Ben Bishop before trickling in. Johnson at first mishandled the puck after picking up the turnover, but he soon regained control and threw it on net from the right boards.
"Literally all game Patrick said, 'Throw it at his feet,'" Johnson said. "I was upset right away just because I kind of lost the puck there and was just trying to make a play. It worked out for the best. I threw it and got a good carom and it went in."
Roy said he was very impressed with Johnson's play against the Lightning, his first game in three weeks after he missed the first two contests following the Olympic break because of a suspension.
"I thought he had great jump," Roy said. "He scored an important goal for us. That gave us a 4-3 lead."
Colorado trailed 3-2 until Holden finished off an early power-play chance in the third period with his first of two goals in the game. He positioned himself just to the left of the crease and received a good pass from Ryan O'Reilly that allowed him to score on an easy tap-in shot.
"Ryan made a terrific pass, cross-crease, and all I had to do was put my stick on the ice," Holden said.
Holden's second tally went into an empty net with 54 seconds remaining in the game. It was an unintentional goal as he was just trying to clear the puck out of the Colorado zone, but his backhand shot kept rolling toward the net and crossed the goal line before the Lightning's Alex Killorn could chase it down.
"I wasn't even trying to score," Holden said. "… I was trying to just get it down the ice and luckily it just kept going."
Barrie got the Avs on the scoreboard at 17:19 of the first period with a great individual effort and just 30 seconds after the Lightning had taken a 1-0 lead.
Barrie received a pass from Paul Stastny as he was streaking into the offensive zone and went around Tampa's Tom Pyatt before attacking the net. He then beat Bishop with a backhand shot between the pads.
The four goals marked the fifth multi-goal effort in 2013-14 by defensemen and were the most by rear guards in a game this season.
That offensive help from the defense is something Avs forwards like O'Reilly will gladly take.
"It's huge," O'Reilly said. "Every time you get a couple of goals from your back end, it gives your team a good shot at winning."
JOHNSON RETURNS TO LINEUP WITH BIG GAME
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson's return to the lineup couldn't have gone much better.
Johnson played a game-high 24:09, had two takeaways, three shots and the game-winning goal with 3:55 left in the third period. He had missed the Avs' previous two games due to a suspension from a slashing penalty in the club's final game before the Olympic break.
The first suspension of Johnson's NHL career came after he tried to whack the stick of Frans Nielson in the third period of the Feb. 8 matchup with the New York Islanders, but he missed and hit the player's hand instead. Nielson suffered a broken hand on the play, which was a main sticking point by the league in delivering the suspension.
"It was long. I think the biggest thing was that it was right after the break," Johnson said Sunday morning as he was preparing for his first game in three weeks. "We were already on a pretty long break [for the Olympics] and to then add two more games to the break was a little long. That is sometimes how it goes, and I'm really happy to be back."
SARICH STILL FOND OF HIS TIME IN TAMPA
For the first time this season and for the eighth time in his career, Cory Sarich faced the team that he won the Stanley Cup with in 2004.
However, while Sarich still has a lot of great memories from playing with the Lightning, he also recognizes that his experience with Tampa Bay was a long time ago.
"I definitely have great memories there, but it's pretty far removed," Sarich said after today's morning skate. "It's been 10 years since our [Stanley Cup] run, and it's been seven years since I've been there. A lot of things have changed. I think there is only one remaining player from when I was there."
Sarich was traded to Tampa Bay during the 1999-00 campaign from Buffalo and went on to spend his next six season with the Lightning.
One of the things he remembers the most from that championship run was the Eastern Conference Finals when Tampa Bay defeated Philadelphia in a physical seven-game series.
"It was such a hard fought battle," Sarich recalled. "I remember Keith Primeau running me over twice on the same shift, just burying me in the corner. Just the hard fought battles have really stuck with me. Some of the grinding it out, and what your body goes through during the whole thing."
MAKING IT ELEVEN
Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon extended his point streak to 11 games (five goals, 11 assists) after he had two assists against the Lightning.
His streak is the longest by an NHL rookie since Paul Stastny’s record 20-game streak in 2006-07, and it is tied for the second-longest streak of any NHL rookie over the past 15 seasons dating back to 1998-99. Alex Ovechkin also had an 11-game point streak during his first year in the league with the Washington Capitals (March 18-April 7, 2006).
MacKinnon leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 49 points and put some space on Sunday between him and the second and third place players, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat of Tampa Bay. Both Lightning rookies still have 37 points after being held off the scoresheet against the Avs.
TAMPA'S COLORADO CONNECTION
As the sport of hockey continues to grow in the state of Colorado, expect to see more and more connections to the Centennial State in the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning has a few of those connections on its roster and coaching staff.
Forward B.J. Crombeen and goalie Ben Bishop were both born in Denver. However, Crombeen grew up in Newmarket, Ontario while Bishop's hometown is in St. Louis, Mo.
On the college front, defenseman Matt Carle went to the University of Denver where he won the Hobey Baker Award as the best college hockey player in 2006.
Carle's coach during that award-winning season is currently an assistant on Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper's staff. George Gwozdecky, who was the head coach at DU from 1994 until 2013, is in his first season as an NHL assistant.
AVS HONOR MILITARY
All branches of the U.S. military were honored by the Avalanche on Sunday as the organization held its third annual Military Appreciation Night at Pepsi Center.
The team had a pregame ceremony recognizing the men and women who have served and are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces, and the players wore green camouflage jerseys during warm-up. The jerseys will be auctioned online with proceeds benefiting Kroenke Sports Charities, which supports numerous agencies including military.
During the second intermission, there was an on-ice ceremony where military members took an oath of re-enlistment.
Also, the Avs Better Halves sold player-signed, military-themed T-shirts on the main concourse during the game. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Avs Better Halves' charitable causes through Kroenke Sports Charities.