With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche each having explosive offenses, tonight’s matchup had wild shootout written all over it.
And that is exactly what happened.
The Lightning came out strong out of the gate, recording the first six shots of the game. At the 7:14 mark of the opening frame, they would break through against Colorado netminder Peter Budaj.
The play began when defenseman Victor Hedman dumped the puck into the Avalanche end, and the puck took a strange carom off of the glass. The puck would end up on the stick of Adam Hall, and Budaj made the first save. But the rebound bounced out into the slot, where Nate Thompson pounced on it. He ripped the puck past Budaj to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead.
There have been some crazy bounces off the glass in recent games that have ended up with the puck in the back of the Bolts’ net, so this one had to feel good.
As has been the case lately the Lightning were carrying play and dominating in shots and scoring chances, but would find themselves tied after one.
Philippe Dupuis broke into the Lightning zone along the right wing boards, and got around defenseman Randy Jones. Even though he beat Jones, Dupuis was forced out wide. As he got to the bottom of the right faceoff circle and approached the goal line, Dupuis fired a wrist shot from a bad angle. But the puck somehow glanced off of Ellis’ pad and into the net, and after dominating most of the first period, the game was tied at 1-1 on what appeared to be a harmless looking play.
The second period began as the first had, with the Bolts forcing play and getting the puck to the Colorado net.
Less than two minutes into the middle stanza, Mattias Ohlund sent a pass up the left wing boards. Simon Gagne was stationed at the Avalanche blue line, and directed a spectacular between-the-legs touch pass to a breaking Martin St. Louis. St. Louis took the puck in full flight and cut across the slot, and beat Budaj with a backhander through the five-hole as he got to the edge of the right faceoff circle.
Less than a minute later, Johan Harju, recalled yesterday from the Norfolk Admirals when it was learned that Steve Downie would be missing time with a high ankle sprain, would pick up his first NHL point. Harju wheeled and fired a shot from the left circle and Budaj made the save, but the rebound went to the slot where Mattias Ritola netted his second goal of the season.
Just 2:44 into the second, the Lightning had a two-goal lead at 3-1.
Just past the seven minute mark, the Avs would get one back. Newcomer Tomas Fleischmann, acquired earlier in the week from the Washington Capitals, ripped a shot from the left point that beat Ellis over his glove hand. The shot hit the post to the left of Ellis and as the goaltender tried to freeze the puck, Matt Duchene tapped it past his glove and off of the same post. The rebound came right back to Duchene, and he slid the puck into the net on his second chance.
It was now a 3-2 Tampa Bay lead.
Three minutes later and with Daniel Winnik already in the penalty box for holding, Kyle Quincey went off for slashing to give the Lightning a two-man advantage.
It took less than 40 seconds for the Bolts to capitalize. Gagne grabbed a St. Louis rebound and ripped it past Budaj to restore the two-goal lead.
Tampa Bay threatened to stretch the lead to three goals, but Budaj made a series of excellent stops on Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone.
With Dupuis in the box and the Lightning on their fifth power play late in the second, Stamkos came close to scoring his first goal in the last five contests. Gagne made a beautiful cross-ice pass right into Stammer’s wheelhouse at the left faceoff circle, and Budaj could not get across in time. But defenseman John-Michael Liles got himself between Stamkos and the net, and blocked the puck into the corner with his right elbow. It was a sure goal had Liles not made the play, and kept Colorado within striking distance.
The Bolts fired 20 shots on goal in the middle frame, and led in the shots department, 29-16, and on the scoreboard, 4-2, heading into the third.
The Avalanche drew to within one just 1:24 into the final period. Leading scorer Milan Hejduk got the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk at the left circle, and Shattenkirk sent a perfect feed over to Paul Stastny at Ellis’ left. Stastny fired the puck into the Tampa Bay goal before Ellis could get across, and it was now a 4-3 Lightning lead.
With Quincey off for roughing, Gagne would again make a good play while on the man advantage. It looked as though the Avs would be able to clear the zone, but Gagne held the puck in along the right blue line. He threw the puck along the boards, where Malone picked up the pass. He skated in and when he hit the right faceoff dot, snapped a wrist shot that glanced off of the bottom of Budaj’s glove and deflected into the net.
Midway through the third, it was now a 5-3 Bolts’ lead.
With just over four minutes left, Sean Bergenheim would add to the lead. He deflected Mike Lundin’s blue line shot past Budaj for his fifth goal of the year, and Tampa had their first three-goal cushion of the night.
And they would need every one of those goals by the end.
With a little over two minutes left in regulation and Colorado on the power play, head coach Joe Sacco pulled Budaj for an extra attacker, basically giving the Avalanche a two-man advantage.