The Lightning outbattled Colorado 1-0 at Pepsi Center on Wednesday in a wildly-entertaining game despite the lack of goals between two of the NHL's best teams so far in 2018-19.
"That was a good one," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the game. "It was just fun to be a part of and have the seat I have to watch it."
Nikita Kucherov netted the game's only marker on a third period power play with less than 14 minutes remaining, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 23 shots he faced to record his first shutout of the season.
The Bolts improve to 6-1-1 (13 points) on the season and continue to lead the NHL for points percentage. They're 2-0-1 on the current road trip with five points through three games and contests against Vegas and Arizona left on the road slate.
If there was one knock on the Lightning's strong start to the season, you could say they'd yet to face or defeat one of the NHL's top teams.
But that can't be used against the Bolts anymore after shutting down the Avalanche.
Here's how they did it.
Video: Vasilevskiy, Kucherov lead Lightning to 1-0 win
1. ESCAPING THE OPENING PERIOD
Whether fatigue from the road trip or the notorious altitude that seems to take teams time to adjust to, the Lightning got off to a slow start against Colorado, a departure from the way they started games in Minnesota and Chicago earlier on the trip.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, were barreling full speed ahead, sending waves of scoring opportunities at Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. At times, it appeared the Bolts were just hanging on for dear life. The Avalanche seemed determined to score.
And they did, 11:11 into the game when Gabriel Landeskog was able to beat Vasilevskiy on an odd-man rush.
Except the Lightning challenged the call, and the goal was overturned after it was deemed Tyson Jost was offside just prior to Landeskog scoring.
If Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were your top two stars from the game for Tampa Bay, maybe Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan and video coordinator Brian Garlock should split third star accolades for buzzing the bench and letting the coaching staff know the goal should be disallowed.
"That's a big job in today's game," Cooper said of the job Kirwan and Garlock do in the back room during games. "You have to trust them. The tough part for us is the video is on the floor of the bench, so by the time you've walked on it a few times you can't see anything anyways. So you need help on it. It was pretty clear that (Jost) had lifted his foot. Probably a huge break for us in the sense that offside's offside, but if that wasn't offside, they had some pretty good jump there in the first period. So that was a big boost. Obviously, that really helped us."
Colorado had a couple power-play opportunities after the Lightning committed a pair of offensive zone penalties. The penalty kill continued to be an unsung hero for the team, getting the Bolts out of both situations. The fact Colorado was unable to break through in the first period despite dominating play and producing numerous scoring chances had to at least be a little bit of a good sign for the Lightning heading into the locker room.
"First period was obviously pretty sluggish for us," Stamkos said. "I think the altitude gets you. The first couple shifts you're breathing heavy. They're a very quick team. They're a very good team. We weathered the storm, and I thought we had a very good second and third and obviously paid off with getting one."
Video: TBL@COL: Vasilevskiy gets piece of Landeskog's shot
2. VASILEVSKIY REBOUNDS BRILLIANTLY
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had his poorest start of the season his last time out Saturday in Minnesota, the Big Cat allowing a season-high five goals, including the game-winner in overtime, a goal he'd like to have back and one he saves probably eight out of 10 times.
He rebounded with a vengeance, however, against Colorado.
In a goaltender dual with the Avalanche's Semyon Varlamov, Vasilevskiy came out on top, stopping all 23 shots he faced to record his first shutout of the season and 13th of his career to move past Daren Puppa and into sole possession of third place on the Lightning's all-time shutouts list.
Vasilevskiy certainly didn't have an easy go of it Wednesday night, however.
Colorado created several point-blank scoring opportunities, but Vasilevskiy was able to turn aside each one. Late in the second period with the Avalanche on a power play and the game still scoreless, Nathan MacKinnon got the puck all alone down low. Vasilevskiy was able to block it away. At the start of the third, Gabriel Landeskog hopped on a puck on the edge of the blue paint. Vasilevskiy was able to deflect the shot just enough with his glove to push it away from goal.
The Bolts could have been down multiple goals against Colorado.
Vasilevskiy was the main reason the game was still tied as the third period progressed.
"He was seeing the puck. He was great," Cooper said. "He was making plays when he was coming out of the net. When he's tracking, which is pretty much every time you see him play, he was seeing everything, covering his rebounds. He was really good."
Backstopped by Vasilevskiy, the Lightning gained confidence in their game and started to take control in the second period and into the third. And collectively, defensively, the team in front of Vasilevskiy put in a pretty good effort for 60 minutes as well.
"We only gave them 12 shots the last two periods combined," Cooper said. "Penalty kill was really good again. And you look, that MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog line is as good a line as you're going to find in this league. You tip your hat to the Bergeron line in Boston and those couple lines along the lead, you're going to be able to put that line in that breath. So for us to keep them off the scoresheet was big and it was a big defensive effort. Ceddy's line wasn't the only line that played against them. Pointer's line did a good job. Johnny had to go out there a few times. It was a collective effort."
The Lightning played well as a team defensively in Colorado.
But Vasilevskiy was the catalyst that got the rest of the team going.
Video: TBL@COL: Kucherov finishes give-and-go with Stamkos
3. THE LONE GOAL
Kucherov's precision snipe and Stamkos' dangle around a defender to produce the game's only goal will generate a lot of the headlines from Tampa Bay's 1-0 win in Colorado.
But the job Kucherov did to keep the puck alive along the wall is the play that set it all up.
If you watched some of our mic'd up features on tampabaylightning.com during training camp, you'll no doubt remember Cooper yelling incessantly, "Seal the wall."
Well, Kucherov remembered his coach's instructions because that's exactly what he did on a mid-third period power play to produce the winning goal.
Colorado had a chance to clear the zone along the right wall, but Carl Soderberg's attempt was halted before exiting by Kucherov, who threw his body against the wall, catching the puck around his neck to seal the wall and prevent the puck from leaving the zone.
"Kuch made a great play on the wall to keep the puck in because he kind of had to eat a puck high," Cooper said. "When players have those types of instincts, that's what takes over and that's what happened on that play."
With the Colorado penalty kill scrambling a bit, Kucherov fed the puck to Stamkos in the left circle. The Avalanche were expecting Stamkos to unleash his patented one-timer. Instead, he faked a shot to elude a defender and sent the puck right back across the crease for Kucherov to one-time into the back of the net.
Stamkos and Kucherov developed a lot of chemistry last season playing on the same line and spearheading the Lightning power play for much of the season. That familiarity paid off on the game-winning play in Colorado.
"I think we've had two or three shifts together in the last three games and we've had a Grade-A chance, scored a couple. Maybe we'll put a little word in the coaches' ear," Stamkos said. "Obviously, anytime I get on with him, we know the chemistry's there. It's exciting the things he can do with the puck and how he can suck guys in. I can try to find him, and he can try to find me. It's nice to see it click tonight on the one shift and that just gives us some confidence."
Stamkos and Kucherov produced magic for the Lightning to win in Colorado.
The game-winning goal never would have happened, though, if it wasn't for Kucherov sealing the wall, a play that won't make it's way on the stat sheet but had a major impact on the outcome of the game.