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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a record-setting win in Colorado

Bryan Burns on Kucherov's speed on the game-winner, McElhinney dealing with physicality and Gaunce getting on the scoresheet

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com

After a mediocre start to the 2019-20 campaign, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to break records with a voracity only seen last season.

Tampa Bay collected its 11th win in a row, establishing a new franchise mark for most consecutive wins, after outlasting the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in overtime at Pepsi Center in as intense a regular season game that will be played all season.

The Lightning got behind early after Colorado connected on the game's first power play, scored three-consecutive goals to take control, saw their lead slip away in a third period where it seemed they were just holding on at times then made history on Nikita Kucherov's breakaway goal in overtime.

Tampa Bay's 11-game win streak is the longest in the NHL this season.
"If you're fluking your way to 11 straight, it's not a recipe for success," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But I'd say out of these 11, for the most part, it hasn't all been perfect, but it's been pretty darn good."

The Lightning also collected their sixth-straight win on the road, the last three all coming in overtime, to move within one road win of tying the franchise mark for consecutive road victories.

The Bolts stayed within a point of Boston for first place in the overall NHL standings. The Lightning have opened a six-point cushion on third place Washington, although the Caps have a game in hand.

Here's what we learned from Tampa Bay's gutty win in Denver.

Video: TBL@COL: Kucherov scores on breakaway in overtime

1. KUCHEROV HAS WHEELS
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon is regarded as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL.

Nikita Kucherov proved he's faster.

MacKinnon had possession of the puck inside the Lightning zone during the 3-on-3 overtime session.

Until he didn't.

Kucherov stripped him of the puck at the top of the left circle. When the Russian right winger started the other way, he had a step on MacKinnon. But as he sped down the ice toward the Colorado goal, he started to pull away from MacKinnon, gaining enough separation to where MacKinnon couldn't affect his shot.

As he closed in on goal, just as MacKinnon tried to stretch out and hook his arm in desperation, Kucherov slipped a shot through the legs of Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz to seal the dramatic win.

"Good pre-scout from the coaches, the goalie coach, and put it five-hole," Kucherov said.

"Kuch made a spectacular play," Cooper added.

Don't overlook the play Kucherov made to strip MacKinnon of the puck either. He knew MacKinnon was at the end of an extended shift and exhausted. He picked his spot perfectly to go in for the puck and skillfully took it away from MacKinnon cleanly.

"He's a smart player," Cooper said. "Those guys had been out there for a little bit on Colorado. That's Kuch thinking the game. That's what he does. He just has elite hockey IQ but what's more impressive is the jets he put on because we all know how fast MacKinnon is. So now not only does he have to go three-quarters of the ice at top speed, he's got to make a play to put it in the net and he did them both."

Video: McElhinney | Postgame at COL

2. McELHINNEY IS ONE TOUGH CUSTOMER
Early in the third period with the Lightning still owning a 3-2 lead, Colorado's J.T. Compher went hard to the net in search of the game-tying goal. He cut in toward the crease and bowled over Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney, flipping over McElhinney and sparking a massive melee against the boards as the Lightning were rightfully upset at Compher for running over their goalie. At one point, Mikhail Sergachev was dragging Compher along the ice while an official held onto Compher to prevent Sergachev from getting to him.

Meanwhile, McElhinney was lying face down on the ice and not moving much at all. Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan raced out to attend to him. At that point, it seemed McElhinney would have to exit the game and the Lightning would have to bring in Andrei Vasilevskiy off the bench.

Eventually, however, McElhinney rose to his feet. He skated around in his crease for a bit, chatted with Mulligan and stayed in the game. No one would have blamed McElhinney for exiting. The hit from Compher looked severe.

But McElhinney wasn't about to leave this one.

"I'm fine. Honestly, I was tied up, like my arms were kind of folded up under me," McElhinney said after the game. "It wasn't a hit to the head or anything. It's a good hockey play. I like it when guys try to get to the net. I liked the response from our team standing up for me. It's nice to see. It's a hard hockey play."

McElhinney's ability to stay in the game would prove beneficial for the Lightning, especially in overtime.

During the extra session, Samuel Girard had a good look at the net on a rebound opportunity, but McElhinney stretched his left leg out far to keep it out. A couple seconds later, McElhinney made another point-blank save on Girard, setting Kucherov up for his game-winner.

"I liked the way that we hung in there," McElhinney said. "The penalty kill at the end there and then obviously in overtime, it comes down to a key save here and there and a big-time play from one of our key players."

McElhinney picked up three victories on the Lightning's 11-game win streak.

"It's been pretty surreal this run that we've been on here the last couple months," McElhinney said. "This 11-game run has been a lot of fun. It's special. It just kind of seems like we're going about our business right now, it's not really so much about the streak."

Video: Gaunce | Postgame at COL

3. GAUNCE PROVIDES A LIFT
Cameron Gaunce was a late addition to the Lightning lineup after Braydon Coburn came off the ice early from morning skate with a lower-body injury.

A key component for the Lightning during their 11-game win streak has been the ability of guys to come in off the bench and contribute when called upon. Gaunce's performance in Colorado was another example.

Just 16 seconds after Alex Killorn knotted the game 1-1 early in the second period, Gaunce blasted a shot from a couple steps inside the blue line and through traffic past Francouz to give the Lightning their first lead 2-1.

"He definitely brings a lot of energy," Kucherov said. "Scored a big goal for us."

Gaunce netted his first goal as a member of the Lightning and his third goal overall in the NHL. The marker was his first since the 2016-17 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Actually, if you count it by games-wise," Gaunce joked, alluding to the fact he has three goals in 36 career games. "Calendar, yes, it's been a while. It felt great. I wasn't sure when it first went in if Gourdo had tipped it, so I was a bit hesitant. But it felt good. That's something I've been working on a lot is when the puck comes up the boards, getting in a shot. To see it go in was a nice feeling."

Gaunce said being able to contribute to the Lightning's franchise record win streak meant a lot.

"it's one of those things where in the moment you can't really grasp the significance of it," Gaunce said. "…I've been trying to do that as my career's gone on is take notice of some of the things that are going on, try to live in the moment but at the same time realize some of the stuff it's pretty cool what I've been able to accomplish. Something like that is something that I'm really proud of."

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