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Avalanche pay a rare visit to Lightning

by John Kreiser

AVALANCHE (32-13-5) at LIGHTNING (30-16-5)


Last 10: Colorado 7-2-1; Tampa Bay 5-4-1

Season series: The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning haven't faced off in more than two years. Colorado won the last game 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 23, 2011. The Lightning won 6-5 on Dec. 4, 2010, the last time the Avalanche came to Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Big story: Two of the NHL's most surprising teams meet for the first time this season. The Avalanche have won four in a row on the road, including a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers on Friday. The Lightning are coming off a 4-3 shootout victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, their first home win in more than a month.

"Our seasons are probably mirroring each other, as well as our teams are mirroring each other in ways," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Colorado played 40 terrific minutes of hockey against the Panthers, but Semyon Varlamov bailed them out in the third period, when the Avalanche were outshot 20-6 -- including 15-0 in the final 13:13.

Coach Patrick Roy was happy with the result, if not the way it was achieved.

"We were outstanding in the first two periods; unfortunately the third was not as good, and this is something we have to be better at," he said. "I thought that was a great test for us in some ways because we were up by three goals, we knew they were going to put pressure on us, and I thought it was a good opportunity to play a strong third period in our own end. That wasn't the case.

"We need to learn to win those games, like 4-1 and 5-1, and bear down on our chances. But, you know what, a win is a win, and this is a very important two points for us."

Lightning: Cooper and Roy are in their first full season behind their respective benches -- Cooper was hired late last season, Roy got the job during the summer.

Roy's performance in his first year with the Avalanche has impressed Cooper.

"He's won wherever he's gone as a player and he's won wherever he's gone as a coach," Cooper said. "He wasn't a hire just because of his name. You can tell by the way his team plays that he's doing a really good job."

Cooper, a lawyer-turned-coach, does feel that Roy's experience as a Hall of Fame player gives him some advantages.

"I've had to lean on people a lot to cut my teeth, travel and the rigors of the schedule; he's well ahead of me on the curve in all aspects," he said.

Who's hot: Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist against Florida, giving him five points in Colorado's past five games. Varlamov is 9-1-1 in his past 11 decisions. … Lightning captain Martin St. Louis has eight goals and five assists during a nine-game point streak

Injury report: Avalanche defenseman Nate Guenin (ankle) could return Saturday. Defenseman Cory Sarich (back) remains on injured reserve. Center John Mitchell (illness) didn't make the trip to Florida. … Lightning center Steven Stamkos (broken right leg) hopes to return before the Olympic break. Defensemen Brian Lee (knee) and Mattias Ohlund (knee) are on injured reserve and haven't played all season.

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