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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: A true test in Tampa Bay

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Two of the best teams in the NHL face off as the Avalanche take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After having their point streak snapped earlier this week in Pittsburgh, the Colorado Avalanche got back on track with a 5-2 victory against the Panthers Thursday night. Tonight, the Avs put an end to their four game road trip with a stop in Tampa Bay to take on the NHL leading Lightning.

This might be Colorado’s toughest task of the season as the Lightning come into the game having won five straight games and 10 of their last 12.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon come into the game leading the league in scoring while the Lightning boast the third and sixth top scorers in Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.

These are two to the NHL’s hottest and most dangerous teams. This one sets up perfectly to be a high-scoring affair, so of course it’s likely to end up being another dull 1-0 final.


Colorado Avalanche

After separating the big-3 Thursday night, it looks like Coach Bednar has put them back together for this one. Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog were back together at practice and will have to be on the top of their game as they are set to see a healthy dose of Victor Hedman.

When the season started, most expected Big Ol’ Carl Soderberg to play the checking center role, tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best players. He’s been that and a whole lot more. Soderberg is in the midst of a career season offensively. He has 10 goals through his first 29 games and has been the driving force of the team’s second powerplay unit.

While depth has been an issue for this team in the past, J.T. Compher’s return from injury has helped out significantly. With seven goals in only 13 games, Compher has looked great since his return from a concussion and he’s being rewarded with a spot higher up in the lineup.

Forwards

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher - Colin Wilson

Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert

Vladislav Kamenev - Alexander Kerfoot - Gabriel Bourque

Defense

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson

Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie

Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth


Tampa Bay Lightning

I spoke with Geo (@GeoFitz4 ) from Raw Charge to get a more intimate perspective of the Lightning.

We all know how good Kucherov and Point have been, who is a lesser known forward Avs fans should keep an eye out for tonight?

Geo: Yanni Gourde is a name that is finally getting some more recognition, at least in part because he just re-signed with the Lightning with a lengthy contract extension. If you haven’t heard his story, Gourde was undrafted out of the QMJHL due to his small stature. Even now at 26 years old and fully grown, he’s listed at 5’9” and 172 pounds, so you can imagine how much smaller he was in the QMJHL before he filled out. He was a point per game player in his Draft+1 year with 68 points in 68 games. But then he shot up to 124 points in 68 games to lead the QMJHL in scoring in his final QMJHL season. He had a hard time catching on though. He played in 54 games for the Worcester Sharks in 2012-13 and only scored 14 points. The next year, he went to the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings. The Sharks brought him back on a PTO where he scored 24 points in 25 games. However, San Jose was unwilling to give him an ELC.

The Lightning though had some faith and gave him the ELC he was looking for. He spent a few more years being a top producer in the AHL before making it to the NHL last year as a 25 year old rookie with 25 goals and 64 points in 82 games. Despite being small, he sticks his nose into the dirty areas. He’s not afraid to go to the front of the net and mix it up. Most of his goal scoring comes from right around the net. He’s also not afraid to mix it up and is one of the most common causes of a scrum among the Lightning’s players. He’s also had a knack for scoring big goals at big times. He’s fast and small, but don’t underestimate his ability to impact a game.

Has the team had to change anything about the way they play with Vasilevskiy our of the lineup?

Geo: Since Louis Domingue took over for Vasilevskiy in net, he’s been just a league average goalie with a .909 SV%. He’s give up 3+ goals in 7 out of 11 games, plus Eddie Pasquale got one game where he allowed five goals. The past two games have been Domingue’s best games though as he allowed one and two goals respectively. But what the Lightning have done is picked up their offense to help outscore any weakness in net. They’re averaging 4.33 goals per game since Vasilevskiy was injured and have scored less than three goals in only two games, which were both losses. Prior to that, they were averaging 3.5 goals per game.

How are the Bolts going to try to slow down Rantanen and MacKinnon?

Geo: You alluded to Kucherov and Point in your first question, and they’re the line that will match up with Rantanen and MacKinnon the most. When the Lightning are at home, they are the shutdown line. Also expect to see a lot of Ryan McDonagh and rookie Erik Cernak backing them up. One of the differences though with the Lightning and a lot of other teams is that they are extremely deep up front. Jon Cooper isn’t afraid of match ups and has a lot of trust in all of his lines. Especially with a lead, he will roll all four of his lines and wear down the opponent who invariably shortens their bench and sits the fourth line to try and tie the game up. Don’t be surprised if you see the third line centered by Anthony Cirelli and the fourth line centered by Cedric Paquette taking on the Avs top line at times throughout the game too. In 2014-15 during the Stanley Cup Finals, Paquette’s line was tasked with shutting down the Chicago Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Those two were held to a combined six points in the six game series and only two of those points, assists by Toews, came in games at Tampa.

Forwards

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Mathieu Joseph - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev


Starting Goalies

Since we saw Philipp Grubauer against the Panthers, it’s going to be Semyon Varlamov in net for the Avs. Varly has been great of late and comes into the game with a 10-6-3 record and a .923 sv%.

A few weeks ago, Lightning starter Andrei Vasilevskiy went down with an injury and is still weeks away from returning. Since then, Tampa has been leaning heavily on Louis Domingue. He hasn’t been great, but his team has been able to outscore the deficiencies in net. Domingue comes into tonight’s game with a .903 sv%.