Looking to put the Stadium Series loss behind them the Colorado Avalanche hosted a strong team from the eastern conference in the Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of ten straight, knowing it would take a special effort to come out on top. The Avalanche clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit but couldn’t grab the extra point in overtime for a 4-3 defeat.
To open the game the Avalanche enjoyed an early power play and threw out a different look with Mikko Rantanen creating from behind the net which without surprise led to the first goal in the game courtesy of Andre Burakovsky at 4:49. A couple Tampa Bay surges were held off and the Avalanche took in a 1-0 lead into intermission.
Unfortunately the wheels came off in the second period. The Lightning received two quick strikes due to coverage break downs around the five minute mark from Alex Killorn and Cameron Gaunce, yes former Avalanche draft pick Cameron Gaunce. But that wasn’t the worst as Rantanen was tripped up on a rush chance, fell into the boards and left the game favoring his left arm. To add insult to injury, goaltender Pavel Francouz failed to cover the puck and everyone in burgundy lost sight of it until Steven Stamkos cleaned up the loose change at 13:43 for Tampa Bay’s third straight goal.
Nathan MacKinnon had something to say about the score when under two minutes to go in the period he received a feed from Gabe Landeskog and found the back of the net to cut the Lightning’s lead to one by the end of the frame.
Some drama erupted in the third period between these unfamiliar foes when JT Compher drove to the net and was nudged at full speed on top of Lighting goaltender Curtis McElhinney which drew plenty of ire. A little later MacKinnon reverse hit Ondrej Palat and caught him in the face so another line scuffle happened and then the Avalanche received a power play. They got the equalizer at 12:43 as Valeri Nichushkin deflected a Cale Makar shot right after the advantage expired to tie the game.
Chances were traded in overtime with good looks for each team. The trio of Sam Girard, Burakovsky and Compher had the best looks for the Avalanche but it was Nikita Kucherov who got a breakaway and with tremendous finish 3:03 into the extra frame scored the fourth goal for the Lightning.
A gutsy come back was overshadowed with concerns for Mikko Rantanen who the Avalanche already announced following the game would be out for weeks. With Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert and Philipp Grubauer already out more than day-to-day and now adding Rantanen to the list is enough missing talent to potentially change trade deadline strategies and plans for the rest of the year. The key is to avoid temptation to overspend on band-aid solutions when playoff positioning is relatively locked in with the divisional format.
Opportunities will arise for certain players including Tyson Jost and Vladislav Kamenev who each saw a couple extra minutes than usual in this contest. The Avalanche had been running a bare bones roster since the Kadri injury with only call-up TJ Tynan filling in for Calvert but will have to dip into more reinforcements from the Colorado Eagles to finish out the rest of the three games this week at least. Is this finally time for Martin Kaut and/or Shane Bowers to make their NHL debuts?
The spotlight is also on Francouz who may have to carry the load for a while. He did enough to get the Avalanche a point in this game by making 23 saves and shutting the door in the third period against some good chances. Like the rest of the team he will have to find a more consistent effort to have continued success down the stretch.
One more big test from the east at home against the New York Islanders at 8pm MT on Wednesday.