DENVER — The Lightning left for Las Vegas Saturday for the first of four nights in Sin City.
But Tampa Bay’s first regret came before it boarded the charter flight; the Lighting lamented making Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Avalanche much more thrilling than it should have been.
Tampa Bay watched a four-goal, third period lead shrink to one twice before holding on.
"We kind of gave them life," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Instead of playing smart, managing the game and kill it out. There’s a bit of a lesson to be learned here about how to close out a game."
Stralman’s second goal of the game gave the Lightning (24-6-2) a 5-1 lead just over two minutes into the third. Tampa Bay defensemen scored four of the team’s six goals, with rookie Mikhail Sergachev tallying his fifth game-winner of the season.
"All those goals the ‘D’ scored made the difference," Stralman said.
But this one looked like a blowout before turning into a shootout. The Lightning scored four goals in a four-minute span midway through the second to break it open.
But the Avalanche scored four times in the third, two on the power play, taking advantage of three Lightning offensive zone penalties.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog had a hat trick, Nathan MacKinnon’s goal midway through the third making it a one-goal game.
"I thought we got lazy," coach Jon Cooper said. "For two periods, we didn’t give them any ice. And for one period, we gave them all the ice.
"If you’re going to give (Landeskog), MacKinnon all that ice, they’re going to do what they did."
That made for a tough line for backup Peter Budaj, who was making just his sixth start of the season. Cooper and Budaj’s teammates felt bad for having put him in a bad spot. Two of the goals were spectacular tips.
Budaj did rebound to make some key saves in the final couple minutes, including a point-blank stop on Blake Comeau.
"Wasn’t much he could have done on those goals," Stralman said. "Two tips. At the end of the day, he really saved us. Came up with huge saves at 6-5 and really closed it out."
Budaj had been sharp early on when the Avalanche was pushing, helping kill three power plays. That’s when the Lightning showed off its quick strike ability. Nikita Kucherov started it off with a breakaway goal, sparked by a stellar stretch pass from Victor Hedman. Nineteen seconds later, Stralman pinched in and converted a cross-crease pass from Tyler Johnson, who extended his point streak to a career-high matching seven games.
Then it was Kucherov’s turn to return the favor with Hedman, who finished a beauty of a give-and-go for his third goal of the season.
The Lightning’s defense has been so productive already this season, just imagine what it’ll be like if Hedman gets rolling.
Yanni Gourde scored Tampa Bay’s fourth goal after crashing the net.
Then came Hedman’s heroics in his own end. With the Avalanche having pulled within 4-1 late in the second period, it looked like Colorado had another one with three minutes to go. The puck trickled dangerously behind Budaj in the crease, with Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon ready to pounce. But Hedman came in, slashing MacKinnon’s stick out of his hands before diving and swiping the puck off the goal line.
"That’s why we have six players on the ice," Budaj said, smiling. "Happy he was there."
The Lightning got another scare late in the second period. Two days after Ryan Callahan’s spill into the boards in Arizona sidelined him for at least 3-4 weeks, Vladislav Namestnikov got dangerously shoved into the boards by Colorado’s Erik Johnson. It came after a Namestnikov shot off the rush.
Namestnikov stayed down on the ice for a couple minutes, leaving the game temporarily, but was back for the ensuing power play as Johnson got five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct (not to mention a likely call from the NHL Department of Player Safety).
"Dangerous play," Cooper said. "You just hold your breath on those. Got a little fortunate."
The same could be said for the entire Lightning team, which avoided suffering a crushing loss before its trip to the Vegas strip.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 23 (Hedman, Gourde), 9:11. 2, Tampa Bay, Stralman 3 (T.Johnson, Sergachev), 9:30. 3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 3 (Kucherov, Dotchin), 11:22. 4, Tampa Bay, Gourde 10 (Killorn, Conacher), 13:21. 5, Colorado, Landeskog 11 (Zadorov, Yakupov), 14:16.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Stralman 4 (Point, Gourde), 2:29. 7, Colorado, Landeskog 12 (Barrie, MacKinnon), 4:58. 8, Colorado, Landeskog 13 (Rantanen, Barrie), 7:17 (pp). 9, Colorado, MacKinnon 14 (Barrie, Landeskog), 9:22 (pp). 10, Tampa Bay, Sergachev 8 (Palat, Stralman), 11:32. 11, Colorado, MacKinnon 15 (Landeskog, Zadorov), 14:14.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 15-10-6—31. Colorado 11-7-19—37.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1; Colorado 2 of 6.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Budaj 3-2-1 (37 shots-32 saves). Colorado, Bernier 5-7-1 (31-25).
A—16,956 (18,007). T—2:39. Referees—Jake Brenk, Wes McCauley. Linesmen—Greg Devorski, Libor Suchanek.