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Game 60 recap: MacKinnon lifts Avs past Lightning 5-4

Nathan MacKinnon broke out of his goal-scoring slump in a big way, tallying a hat trick to send the Avs, despite a scare late, to their fourth win in five games.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lighting square off tonight at a snowy Pepsi Center. The Lighting have all but wrapped up a playoff spot, but they have been up and down lately, especially on the road. A win by Tampa could push it to the top of the (L)Eastern Conference. The Avs enter having played some of their best hockey of the season over the last week. It’s also military appreciation night, which is one of the coolest things the team does. ‘Murica! Let’s get to it!

No Jan Hejda in this one.

First period

Turnover No. 1 takes about 90 seconds, which creates a 2-on-1 for Tampa, Ryan Callahan misses, and Varly makes a great save on the rebound chance by Alex Killorn. Varly appears to be in the groove early, as Tampa already has four shots through five minutes and some pretty good chances at that.

5:30 into the game and Dennis Everberg creates the first real opportunity, as his shot was saved and deflected into the path of Jon Mitchell, but Andrei Vasilevskiy kept it from crossing the line. The pace to the game is lightning quick so far.

Right out of the timeout Max Talbot gets taken down crashing the net, but no call.

Lightning get some pressure, which eventually leads to a beautiful goal to break the deadlock. Brad Stuart helps the cause with a giveaway, which sets up a give-and-go from Ondrej Palat to Tyler Johnson and back to Palat for the goal. 1-0 Tampa Bay with 9:37 left in the first.

The Avs actually respond well and spend some time in the Tampa zone. Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene combine well and create a great chance for I think Stuart, who was all alone in front, but he couldn’t dig the puck out from his feet. Tyson Barrie was flying around as well.

Soon after the TV timeout, MacKinnon collects a pass from Gabriel Landeskog at center ice, breakaway from the Lighting defense and flips a backhanded shot past Vasilevskiy. Now that’s what you want to see from the super soph. Slightly soft goal to give up because the angle wasn’t amazing for Nate, but given his crappy luck shooting wise he deserved a break. 1-1 with 3:39 in the first.

Talbot then takes a penalty, giving the Lightning a power play for most of the rest of the period. The Avs get a 2-on-1 shorthanded chance, but Landeskog misses. The Avs kill off the penalty and we are tied at 1 after 20 minutes. Tampa had the better of it, but the Avs came on strong and it feels like the tide of the game is turning. Shots are 11-5 Tampa.

Second period

Twenty-nine seconds into the period Nikita Nesterov takes a minor for high sticking. Some good movement, passing and shots but no goal for the Avs.

All of a sudden Ryan O’Reilly gets a shot off from the slot and MacKinnon redirects it for a 2-1 lead with 16:50 left. Great pass by Barrie also to set it up.

Holy moly! Right off the ensuing faceoff, Duchene picks off a clearing attempt by Nesterov and quickly fires a wrister past Vasilevskiy. It’s now 3-1 with 16:21 left; two goals in 29 seconds for the god guys.

The Lightning immediately return to the gas pedal and are rewarded. With 14:09 left Johnson tips a shot past Varly to make it 3-2.

Right after that the Lightning get a power play opportunity and a chance to tie the game. What a crazy sequence here. The Avs do a nice job of keeping things to the outside and kill off the penalty.

The Avs wouldn’t have to wait long to get their two-goal lead back as MacKinnon takes a sick pass from O’Reilly and buries a goal. 4-2 with 8:10 left in the period and the hats are on the ice. These are Nate’s first goals since January 17. Damn.

The Avs get a weird 2-on-1 with about five minutes left but the Lightning backcheck and clear.

Barrie gets nabbed for high sticking with 4:48 left in the period. Tampa has some great chances on the man advantage but the Avs hold firm. Tampa continues to pressure and Palat gets to shots from the slot off that miss.

Soon after Nate Guenin and Brenden Morrow get it on near the penalty box.

Things wind down and the Avs lead 4-2 after two periods. Well that was nuts. Action packed, could have been several more goals. Crazy stuff. Shots are 24-13 Lightning; it’s like they have a backup goalie in there or something.

Third period

A pretty quiet opening five minutes to the period, a few turnovers leading to half chances but both teams are still skating. MacKinnon is still going nuts.

Boom! Game over! Alex Tanguay gets a pass from Everberg and converts a chance with 12:20 left to give the Avs a 5-2 lead and presumably the win.

Cody McLeod and Brian Boyle fight with 8:42 left in the game.

Tampa quickly gets a strange goal to pull to within 5-3 with 8:17 left. Brett Connolly capitalizes on some lackadaisical defending to knock it in off Varly, but the Valtteri Filppula just hacks it from the corner and it ends right in front of the net. Still plenty of time left for Tampa to apply massive pressure.

It takes a while but the pressure finally comes and Tampa had a great chance to make it 5-4 with three minutes left. It seemed like all 10 skaters we on top of Varly but the puck didn’t cross the line.

Goalie pulled with 2 min left and Tampa gets a goal. Nikita Kucherev gets a great cross ice-pass and Varly can’t get over in time. 5-4 with 1:02 remaining on the clock.

Doesn’t take long for the Lighting to get back into the zone, but most of the remaining chances come from outside and the Avs hang on for a wild 5-4 win. Shots finish 32-18 Lightning.

Thoughts

Well this one was pretty obvious. MacKinnon was at his 2014 playoff level tonight and it was spectacular to watch.

This had a feel of a high-scoring game right away. Tampa can score like whoa. The Avs can’t defend. Vasilevskiy was in net. All the ingredients.

Did I say MacKinnon played well? One of his best games since being drafted.

Next up is a trip to NHL-leading Nashville on Tuesday.