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Rocky Mountain Low for Bolts in Denver

It was a mere Stanley Cup Final ago that the Colorado Avalanche met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2022 Stanley Cup. The Lightning were denied a third consecutive Cup win by the Avalanche. It seems as if so much has changed since those halcyon days. It is now almost 2024 and while these two teams are still among the best in the league they are no longer at top of their respective conferences. The parity in the league has caught up with these two organizations. So, tonight, it’s more for pride. Both teams want the two points for the win but neither team will make it easy for the other. Should be a good game tonight. 

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in net for Tampa and Alexandar Georgiev for Colorado. It will be the Lightning’s first look at two former players in Avalanche sweaters. Ross Colton and Jonathan Drouin are now playing for Colorado. Colton is on a career year pace in goals and points. Drouin is on pace to hit double digits in goals for the first time in five seasons.

Gotta Start Sometime

Right from the opening drop of the puck, both teams were committed to strong team defense. Shots were challenged, checks were finished and there was little time or space for anyone with the puck. This game had the makings of a low scoring affair. It would probably come down to mistakes to find the back of the net. 

As the game ping-ponged between the zones of both teams, the Avalanche took advantage of a Lightning mistake. Coming out of their zone, Colorado was trying to establish a rush towards Vasilevskiy. Just as he began to turn to keep up, Victor Hedman blew a tire and fell to the ice. This allowed Ryan Johansen to get the puck on a 2 on 1. Johansen blasted a slap shot past Vasilevskiy to open the game’s scoring. 

In the second half of the initial period, the Lightning had two power play chances. Neither opportunity showed off one of the league’s best power play units. The Avalanche actually had a better scoring chance in the first power play and shut Tampa down in the second. When the horn sounded, the home team was up 1-0 in the score despite being outshot by the visitors 13 to 8.

Seriously, Feel Free to Start

As the second period began, the Lightning seemed intent on getting this game tied. They got the first shot on goal in the period and were beginning to build some zone time. Faster than you can blink, a blocked Brayden Point shot and Colorado had an odd man rush which they capitalized on. Johansen scored his second goal of the game on a rebound while Vasilevskiy was prone on the ice. Just like that, the Avalanche were up 2-0. 

Less than 20 seconds after Colorado’s second goal, Calvin deHaan was called for a tripping penalty putting the Avalanche on the power play. If there ever was a penalty kill more imperative, we haven’t seen it lately. A little over a minute later, Cale Makar blasted a shot past Vasilevskiy through a maze of players to put the Avalanche up 3-0. If the Lightning aren’t careful, this game is going to implode on them. 

What the Lightning needed was an answer. And they needed it quickly. Mikey Eyssimont of the resurgent third line scored the first Lightning goal. Or so we thought. Colorado challenged the goal as they believed the puck was brought in on an offsides. Waved off, the score reverted back to 3-0 with Tampa still looking for answers. 

In the last minute of the period, Anthony Cirelli on a beautiful pass from Hedman, went in all alone on Georgiev and scored the first Lightning goal of the game. That’s how the period ended with the Avalanche enjoying a 3-1 lead.

Let’s Hope the Third isn’t a Turd

It’s not as if the Lightning aren’t playing well. They outshot the Avalanche in both periods by the same 13 to 8 shots. To hold Colorado to 16 shots through two periods is a feat itself. They came into this game with 32.6 shots on goal per game. Couple that with the fact that the Lightning came into tonight giving up 31.7 shots per game and it didn’t bode well. Yet, they were limiting the chances by Colorado. Too bad the score didn’t reflect this defensive play. In the first ten minutes of the final period, when the Lightning needed to generate a goal to get themselves within one goal, they were outshot by the Avalanche 6 to 1. They needed some puck luck but that’s hard to come by when most of the play is in your zone. Colorado saw to that. 

In the last half of the last period, the Lightning began to mount some offensive zone time. Despite getting six straight shots on Georgiev, he stopped them all. With a little over four minutes remaining Lightning coach Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for the extra attacker. They had some good looks but Georgiev was up to the task and then some. As the clock wound down, the Avalanche scored an empty net goal to make the final score 4-1. Valeri Nichuskin put it in the net to provide the final score. 

Three Stars 

  1. Ryan Johansen – 2 goals including the game’s first goal
  2. Aleandar Georgiev – Saved 40 of 41 shots he faced for a save percentage of .976 
  3. Cale Makar – 1 Goal and 1 Assist 

What’s Next 

The Lightning are back at it tomorrow. Tuesday at Phoenix to meet the Coyotes. Puck drops at 9:00 pm.

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