The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning played for the first time since the Avs won the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, and for a while, it looked like we would get the close game this ESPN prime-time matchup implied. Instead, the Avs let it all slip away in a frustrating second period which featured a moment that encapsulates the team’s frustrations this season.
The Avs came out strong, but Tampa took control by shutting Colorado down through the neutral zone. Two minutes in, Andrew Cogliano took a wicked knee-to-knee by former Av Ian Cole that looked really bad as he had to be helped off the ice, but he didn’t even miss a shift. After some back-and-forth play, the Lightning went on the power play, and after some yeoman’s work by Devon Toews against the top unit in single-handedly clearing the puck, Tampa’s second unit scored on a nice move down low by Corey Perry.
The Avs couldn’t get anything going the rest of the period, as Jared Bednar indicated he was displeased with some over-passing during an ESPN interview and said that the Avs “need to get in front of the goalie.”
The second opened with plenty of chances for the Avs to get back in the game, and they clearly listened to their coach’s message of screening the goalie and firing away. First, there was a Matt Nieto breakaway, then Nathan Mackinnon hit a post, and next, they had a power play they couldn’t capitalize on. This was the Avs’ lost moment from this contest, and minutes later Tampa would begin to run away with it, as Mikko Rantanen got stoned yet again by Andrei Vasilevsky on another shot from the low slot, and Brandon Hagel took it the other way for an open net goal after Anthony Cirelli out-muscled Sam Girard and Devon Toews (who was also there for some reason) at the back post (the reason could be one we have heard from Jared Bednar before: note how there are no back-checking forwards near the puck in this clip).
Next Brayden Point would add a power-play goal that sure felt like game over given how well Vasilevsky was playing.
Mikko’s bad period soon got much worse, as he tripped trying to move the puck out of his own zone, lost it, then Hagel did what Mikko couldn’t all night, and ripped a shot from the low slot past the goalie.
After the goal, Rantanen repeatedly slammed his stick on top of the boards in frustration and was assessed a 10-minute misconduct in a moment that signified how the Avalanche slowly came unglued tonight.
The third was more of the same, as Mikhail Sergachev scored for Tampa five minutes in to end any hope the Avs had for a dramatic comeback.
Not much else of note happened in the third period, save for yet another Avalanche injury when Evan Rodrigues took a puck right to the face.
The only other significant moment came with just seconds left when Kurtis MacDermid and Patrick Maroon settled some residual Stanley Cup beef with a fight that felt even more pointless than it looked.
The dek says it all: Tampa Bay treated this like the biggest game of their season and Colorado did not. The Lightning was first to every loose puck and they laid out the blueprint on how to stymie Colorado’s offense by mucking up the neutral zone.
The Avs sorely missed Cale Makar tonight, but he wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome given the effort they put into the second period and how well Vasilevskiy played when they were still in the game. The Avs had a chance to take control early in both the first and second periods, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was the best player on the ice tonight. As it slipped away from the Avs, they seemed to let momentum take the reins, and it all boiled over in a moment reminiscent of Alexandar Georgiev’s outburst after being hung out to dry yet again. Mikko Rantanen has now provided the signature moment of the nascent second half of the season—and it’s not a good one.
The road trip concludes against the Florida Panthers. Puck drop is at 4:00 p.m. MT.