In recording their season-best sixth victory in a row, the Tampa Bay Lightning played perhaps their most complete game of the season in a 7-1 demolition of the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night at AMALIE Arena.
"It was one of them, top 3 for sure," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said following the game. "Anytime you can beat a team like that in that manner, it's pretty impressive."
Colorado entered Tampa tied for first in the Western Conference. The Lightning and the Avalanche were locked in a defensive duel the first time the two teams met up on October 24 in Denver, the Bolts prevailing on Nikita Kucherov's third period power-play marker for a 1-0 win.
Saturday's win was devoid of any late-game drama. The Lightning scored the first two goals and entered the first intermission up 3-1. They added three goals in the second period to ignite the blowout win and tacked on another goal in the third for good measure.
Nearly all the Bolts got in on the action, 13 different skaters registering at least a point, and goaltender Louis Domingue stopping all but one of the 30 shots he faced to pick up his fifth-straight win and improve to 13-4-0 on the season.
How was Saturday's game so lopsided when the first matchup between the two was a nail-biter? And what's the mood around the Lightning right now with an undefeated 5-0-0 record in December?
We'll break it down in Three Things we learned from plowing the Avalanche.
Video: COL@TBL: Stamkos buries one-timer for PPG
1. STAMMER SCORES AT WILL
No player in Tampa Bay Lightning history has recorded more games with four or more points than Bolts captain Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos added another one Saturday night, the 13th time he's tallied four or more points in a game, putting together arguably his best performance of the season in Tampa Bay's 7-1 blowout of the Avalanche.
Stamkos netted the first two goals for the Lightning, scoring on a power play just over three minutes into the game after Nikita Kucherov threaded a cross-ice pass to find him wide open on the back post.
Ten minutes later, Stamkos capitalized on a Colorado turnover, the puck squirting out of the offensive zone and into the neutral zone where Stamkos was all by himself. He turned on the jets the other way and beat Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov with a nice move at the net, backhanding a shot past the out-of-position goalie for a 2-0 Lightning lead.
"You give him opportunities like he got on the power play and on a breakaway, Stammer usually finishes those," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He had his legs tonight. It was great."
Stamkos wasn't finished however.
He started a scoring play in the second period, delivering a pass to Yanni Gourde in the high slot as he was falling down, Gourde trapping the puck with his skate and backhanding a pass on the far post for Alex Killorn to sweep into the net to make it 3-1 Tampa Bay.
Six minutes after, Stamkos threaded a pass from the left point to the right dot to hit Ondrej Palat in stride and set up the left winger for his first goal of the season.
"I thought we deserved everything that we got today including some bounces and some breaks," Stamkos said. "When we're on top of the puck like we were tonight, it's tough for the other team."
Video: Palat on his play since his returning from injury
2. I LIKE IT PALAT
Ondrej Palat entered Saturday's game as the only Lightning regular forward without a goal on the season.
Sure, Palat missed 16 games of the season with a lower-body injury. Still, it is surprising to see the valuable two-way forward without a goal so late into the season.
Check that, it was surprising.
Palat broke out of the goal-scoring slump in a big way against the Avalanche.
Eight minutes into the second period with the Lightning already leading 4-1, Palat finally lit the lamp, benefitting from Stamkos' sharp pass through the zone to get in alone on Varlamov and wrist a shot inside the far post. After the goal, Palat raised both arms in the air in triumph, a look of relief washing over his face as his teammates came over to celebrate.
"It's tough to come back from an injury, especially one like that," Stamkos said. "He's had some bad breaks over the years, but at the end of the day when you look at that stats at the end of the year, he finds a way to get it done. He's really worked extremely hard. Hopefully this will propel him and keep him going. He was fun to play with tonight."
Early in the third period with the Lightning on a power play, Palat tallied his second, his good friend Tyler Johnson whipping a pass through the blue paint for Palat to slam home into the empty net.
"He's a big part of this team," Johnson said. "He's awesome, and we've definitely missed him when he wasn't playing. It's good for him to get that monkey off the back, to be able to get those in the net. It helps your confidence a lot. I think we've all been there at some point, so you feel for him but you're really happy today. I can't wait to see him get rolling here."
Palat was one of the few Bolts not to score a goal this season before tonight's game. Tampa Bay leads the NHL for goals and has been getting contributions from pretty much everybody. If Palat can begin scoring with regularity, look out.
3. CELEBRATORY MOOD
This Lightning team is having a lot of fun right now in the midst of a six-game win streak and topping the NHL standings.
And why shouldn't they?
The Bolts are playing some of their best hockey of the season currently and they're doing it at a point in the schedule where they should be feeling fatigued with a game every other night for nearly a month. They might not put up a more eye-opening win all season than their result Saturday, dominating arguably the best team in the Western Conference to the tune of a 7-1 drubbing.
When Palat scored his first goal of the season, Cooper said the bench went off.
"Everybody was yelling to grab the puck," Cooper said, smiling. "It's funny, he goes the whole year without one and it took him 8 minutes to get two. Guys were pretty excited."
After the game, while Palat was at the front of a media scrum doing his post-game interview, Johnson snuck behind the reporters to listen to and mess with Palat.
Seeing this, I asked Palat what he thought of Tyler Johnson's play against Colorado.
"He's fun to watch," Palat answered before finally spotting Johnson. "He's one of my favorite players."
Johnson had a follow-up: "How does it feel to get a goal as a dad?"
"It's pretty good," Palat replied. "I put the little A on my stick, that's my baby girl's name."
"Aww, you're so cute," said Johnson.
"I know," Palat shot back.
This is a team that clearly enjoys playing with one another.
And right now, the good times are rolling.