While Thursday night’s matchup in Tampa between the Colorado Avalanche and host Lightning is a Stanley Cup Final rematch, neither team is currently turning in that caliber of play.
The meeting is the first between the clubs since the Avalanche won the franchise’s third Stanley Cup on June 26, beating Tampa Bay in six games as the Lightning attempted to three-peat and claim their fourth championship.
The reigning Eastern Conference champs appear in good position to make the postseason again. They are slotted firmly in third place in the Atlantic Division — 10 points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers. Coach Jon Cooper’s squad and Buffalo each have 32 games remaining while the in-state rival Panthers have 29.
But most concerning for the Lightning is a two-game losing streak after setbacks against the Panthers and San Jose Sharks.
Florida’s 49-shot effort against goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning led to a 7-1 trouncing on Monday. Then visiting San Jose broke Tampa’s franchise-record, 12-game home winning streak Tuesday by rallying from a 3-1 first-period deficit in a 4-3 overtime victory.
Against the Sharks, Tampa Bay lost for the first time in 21 matches when leading after 20 minutes of play. It allowed two goals at the start of a pair of San Jose power plays — totaling just 10 seconds of ice time.
“We gave up two on the power play — it felt like 15 seconds,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who handed out his 499th career assist on Brayden Point’s power-play goal. “I liked our game in the first, (but) it kind of got away from us in the second.”
San Jose’s Timo Meier, who scored twice, including the game-winning tally in overtime, hit the crossbar with the potential game-winner with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
“It stings … but we got a point,” Hedman added. “(Meier) had a breakaway to win the game late in the third. It’s on us and we’ve got to do better.”
Colorado led most of the game against its opponent — Pittsburgh — but also blew the lead and lost in overtime 2-1 on defenseman Kris Letang’s game-winner.
Through 49 contests, coach Jared Bednar’s club desperately clings to the second wild-card spot behind the Edmonton Oilers. Colorado is tied with Calgary with 58 points but holds two games in hand over the Flames.
In Pittsburgh, Nathan MacKinnon’s 14th marker appeared to be enough to win, but Bryan Rust tied it at 1 with 3:38 left in the match.
“I liked our game tonight. I thought we checked hard,” Bednar said. “We were dangerous on the offensive side of it. I thought their goalie (Casey DeSmith) had a really good night, and we didn’t shoot the puck well.”
Bednar was not as keen about the hit by Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter on Colorado star defenseman Cale Makar in the third period. Carter shouldered his way through Makar in front of the net, with the defenseman eventually getting up, going to the dressing room and returning.
“(Carter) skated right through his head. That’s what I saw,” Bednar said.
On Thursday, Bednar announced Makar (head) will sit out the game against the Lightning as well as Saturday’s clash versus the Florida Panthers.
Forward Valeri Nichushkin (upper body) returned to Colorado’s lineup following a two-game absence and played 22:03.
–Field Level Media