The Lightning have now completed three five-game road trips this season. Winning the final game at the end of such a long trip is a challenge – and the Bolts have lost the final game in all of those trips. The first two were lopsided losses – a 7-2 defeat in Minnesota on October 25 and a 3-1 defeat to the New York Islanders on December 21, a game in which the Bolts allowed 47 shots and were completely outplayed. Compared to those clunkers, then, this game was an improvement. The Lightning scored four goals, outshot the Avs, 32-18, and almost completed a three-goal third period comeback.
What the Lightning did not do well in this game, however, was maintain the solid team defense they’d displayed throughout much of the trip. It’s true that the Avs only posted 18 shots, but they generated excellent scoring chances. All five of their goals began with a Lightning turnover. This sloppy puck management cost the Lightning a chance at adding to the six points they’d gained so far on the trip.
The Lightning started the game well, forcing Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov to make several difficult point blank saves. They grabbed the lead when Ondrej Palat stole the puck at the Avalanche blue line and completed a give-and-go passing play with Tyler Johnson. Palat finished the shot to open the scoring. But the lead didn’t last. Late in the frame, the Lightning turned the puck over in the offensive zone when an errant drop pass was stolen by Gabriel Landeskog. Landeskog sent Nathan MacKinnon up ice with speed. MacKinnon outraced Nikita Nesterov and Jason Garrison and lifted a backhander past Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the score.
MacKinnon struck again early in the second. Following a Lightning neutral zone turnover, Ryan O’Reilly sped into the Lightning end. Eventually, the puck came back to O’Reilly at the left circle. MacKinnon deflected the O’Reilly shot into the net. On the next shift, Nesterov’s attempted d-zone outlet pass was picked off by Matt Duchene, who wired a shot from the slot over Vasilevskiy’s glove.
The Avs made their share of mistakes, too. One of those resulted in an offensive zone steal for Alex Killorn. He set up Nikita Kucherov for a shot in the slot. Johnson slid in the rebound to cut the deficit to 3-2. But another Lightning turnover in the second proved costly. Kucherov fumbled the puck at center ice and the Lightning lost coverage on MacKinnon. O’Reilly sent MacKinnon in on a breakaway to complete his first NHL hat trick.
A neutral zone turnover in the third led to a counter goal for Alex Tanguay, which gave the home team a 5-2 lead at 7:20. But the Lightning kept up their attack. A Cedric Paquette offensive zone steal resulted in Valtteri Filppula’s shot getting deflected in by Brett Connolly with just over eight minutes left. The Bolts had several other good looks, including chances for Killorn in the slot and Anton Stralman at the front of the net. With just over a minute left and Vasilevskiy on the bench for a sixth attacker, Johnson whipped a cross-ice pass to Kucherov, who one-timed a shot past Varlamov. It was 5-4. The Bolts applied heavy pressure in the final minute, but couldn’t tie it.
The Lightning deserve credit for their third-period comeback effort. Down by three goals in the final period of a long trip could have led to a quiet finish. It didn’t. But the rally fell one goal short, in large part because of the costly mistakes they made earlier in the game. Usually, scoring four goals is enough to win – or at least force overtime. It wasn’t tonight.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
MacKinnon’s second goal, which gave the Avs a 2-1 lead early in the second.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Nathan MacKinnon – Avalanche. Hat trick.
2.Matt Duchene – Avalanche. Goal.
3.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Goal and two assists.