The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet at Amalie Arena for the first time since June 26th, 2022, when Colorado won their third Stanley Cup by defeating the defending champions in six games. It's a new season; this time, the Avalanche are tasked with defending their title, still looking to emulate the team from the sunshine state. The Lightning were on the cusp of being crowned champions for a third straight season as it was "Dynasty vs. Legacy," but the 2022 Avalanche did indeed "Find A Way."
The Avalanche looked great coming off the break against the Penguins but again faltered in the third period, forfeited the lead, and eventually lost in OT. They could have been up multiple goals heading into the third if not for some bad puck luck, but that's often how it goes. The resolve Colorado was known for last season seems less apparent this season. Being without your stalwart and captain for the entire season thus far likely doesn't help.
Against the Penguins, we did see the return of Bowen Byram and Valeri Nichushkin but also saw Cale Makar wear a high hit that sent him to the room after concussion spotters pulled the young defensive phenom. Makar will not play tonight or on Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Another massive blow to an Avalanche team that has dealt with injuries all season. Even more frustrating, the league did not discipline Jeff Carter after his dangerous hit to Makar's head and agreed with referees that it was incidental. So are high sticks, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be held responsible for a high hit regardless of intention. I digress.
Another thing worth mentioning is that it was Pavel Francouz and not Alexandar Georgiev in Pittsburgh. They may have gone with the backup in Frankie to give Georgiev the nod against the Lightning tonight and again next Tuesday, but wouldn't the Avalanche want their number one against the Minnesota Wild on the following day? Having your best keeper against the divisional foe you are chasing in the playoff race seems more important.
Valeri Nichushkin — Nathan MacKinnon — Artturi Lehknonen
Mikko Rantanen — J.T. Compher — Evan Rodrigues
Andrew Cogliano — Alex Newhook — Logan O'Connor
Matt Nieto — Denis Malgin — Kurtis MacDermid
Devon Toews — Samuel Girard
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Brad Hunt — Andreas Englund
Note: Cale Makar is out, which should elevate Samuel Girard to the top pairing with Devon Toews.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Lightning remains the Lightning despite struggling out of the All-Star break. Yeah, they got dominated by the Panthers and then gave up a big lead the next night to lose in OT, but they still have a dangerous roster and one of the league's best keepers. They currently sit third in the Atlantic division behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins but only trail the Leafs by four points with two games in hand.
Tampa has a lot to prove to themselves both against the Avalanche and in ending their current losing streak. I'd expect a playoff-like atmosphere and play style tonight, so get your popcorn ready.
Steven Stamkos — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Nick Paul — Patrick Maroon
Vladislav Namestnikov — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry
Victor Hedman — Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev — Erik Cernak
Ian Cole — Nicklaus Perbix
Note: Forward Nick Paul is listed as day-to-day but did take a morning skate, so we expect him to play.
The Avalanche will go with Alexandar Georgiev tonight if he is good to go. We haven't heard otherwise, but I'm still confused about why he didn't start the last game. Nonetheless, Georgiev will have his work cut out against the league's third-most-scoring team, the Lightning, who have a whopping 179 goals this season thus far.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the first goalie off the ice. He’ll start vs. the Avalanche.— Chris Krenn (@Chris_Krenn) February 9, 2023
Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first goalie off the ice in the morning skate, which typically indicates that it will be his net tonight in a Stanley Cup final rematch. The one dubbed "The Big Cat" is hungry for revenge as he looked human in the series against the Avalanche for the first time in his career. Do the Avalanche have enough firepower to beat him again?