With the NHL’s hottest team in town, the Avalanche gave everything they had right to the end in a spirited 4-3 overtime loss Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning led 3-1 before Colorado (36-18-7) forced overtime without Mikko Rantanen, who was injured late in the second period.
Reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov stole the puck from Avs superstar Nathan MacKinnon and jolted into the offensive zone on a breakaway, beating goaltender Pavel Francouz five-hole to halt the Avalanche’s comeback effort.
“Kucherov just popped it with his stick and took off,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “But we kind of jammed each other up in my opinion. I think we can give the puck some space. There is a lot of room on the ice with three guys. It looked like we headed over towards where the puck is and got jammed up.”
Rantanen exited the game early in the second period after getting tripped up and slamming into the boards of a 2-on-1 play in the offensive zone. The forward quickly favored his shoulder and skated to the locker room in pain. Bednar confirmed that Rantanen will be out weeks.
Colorado’s comeback began late in the second period. Captain Gabe Landeskog skated into the offensive zone and dropped the puck to MacKinnon. He quickly cut into the slot and fired it past Curtis McElhinney to pull the Avs within one. MacKinnon, who set up the opening goal from Andre Burakovsky on the power play, pulled ahead of Connor McDavid for third in the NHL scoring race with 82 points.
The physicality ramped up in the third period. Most notably when MacKinnon, while in possession of the puck, dropped Lightning forward Ondrej Palat to the ice with a shoulder to the chest. The hit drew a crowd with Anthony Cirelli hacking away at MacKinnon. Defenseman Ryan Graves quickly stepped in front of MacKinnon, who unwillingly skated away from Cirelli’s attempt to draw a penalty.
“He’s our leader, our top player. Guys don’t get to take whacks at him,” Graves said. “Everyone in this room would step up the same way. Palat takes a run at him and MacK just stands him up and they’re crying about it and coming after him. You don’t get to do that. That’s the way the league is, you don’t get free whacks at our best players.”
Colorado evened the score two minutes before the MacKinnon hit. After failing to score on the power play, the Avs kept the puck in the zone and continued to press. Defenseman Cale Makar received a pass from Landeskog and quickly shot it towards the goal where Valeri Nichushkin tipped the puck in for his 12th of the season.
With a combined 50 hits and 49 shots through regulation, the game had the feel and physicality of a postseason battle. Despite the loss, the energy in the building was not lost on the Avalanche.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Francouz said. “The crowd was buzzing, the guys were playing well. We were really sad that we couldn’t win this game for them. It shows the character of the team. The guys did not give up. I think it’s huge for us. I think we deserved more than one point but that’s how it goes.”
Francouz made 24 saves, conceding three goals in a forgettable 8:51 stretch in the second period—mainly the result of defensive mistakes.
“The first goal we lose low coverage they get a tap-in,” Bednar said. “We lost the coverage on a routine play. Second one, the goalie has got to have it. That’s a shot unscreened from the blueline. You have to make a save. And then we had a pinch on an odd-man rush. So to me, all three goals are preventable.”
Colorado relied heavily on its top line after Rantanen was injured. Landeskog was promoted to the top unit and played 24:16. Burakovsky played 24:28 and MacKinnon led the way at 27:13. … Colorado was 1-for-4 on the power play, scoring for the fourth time in the past five games on the man-advantage. … Colorado defeated the Lighting 6-2 in October to split the series between the two powerhouse teams. … Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin and Detroit Red Wings Assistant General Manager Pat Verbeek were present for this game. Detroit and Montreal are both expected to be sellers ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday.
- Nikita Kucherov: His game-winner and 29th of the season gave Tampa Bay its franchise-record 11th consecutive victory.
- Nathan MacKinnon: Scoring a goal and adding an assist, MacKinnon rose to the occasion and played a season-high 27:13 after Rantanen’s injury.
- Gabe Landeskog: The Avalanche’s captain played a part in two goals, finishing with two assists to aid Colorado in its comeback.
Colorado welcomes the struggling New York Islanders Wednesday to close out its five-game homestand. The Islanders have lost three straight, scoring just one goal.