Stralman’s two goals help Lightning top Avalanche
DENVER — Thanks to a sloppy third period, the Tampa Bay Lightning watched their big lead shrivel into a nail-biting finish on Saturday night.
The NHL’s best team will savor this victory — one that nearly got away.
Anton Stralman scored twice, Yanni Gourde had a goal and two assists, and the Lightning frantically held on to beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-5 for their seventh straight win.
Tampa Bay led 4-0 in the second period and 5-1 in the third but still had to withstand a late push from the Avalanche, who got a hat trick from captain Gabriel Landeskog and another two goals from Nathan MacKinnon to get within one goal twice in the final frame.
“I think there’s a little bit of a lesson here about how to close out games and play the right way for 60 minutes,” Stralman said. “We did such a good job for 40 minutes and then we collapsed a little bit.”
Mikhail Sergachev made it a two-goal advantage at the 11:32 mark of the period before MacKinnon expertly tipped Nikita Zadorov’s shot over Tampa Bay goalie Peter Budaj’s shoulder to make 6-5 with 5:46 remaining.
After six goals in the period, Colorado pulled goalie Jonathan Bernier with around two minutes remaining and had a few nice chances to tie things up. Landeskog had one of the best looks in the final moments, but Budaj stood firm and made a series of key saves to help the Lightning hold on.
“At the end of the season or end of your career, you can sit down and say it was a cool night,” Landeskog said. “But it would have been even better if I put that last one in, too. A grade-A scoring chance in the middle of the slot, the ones you dream about.”
It was not to be.
In the end, the Lightning (24-6-2) enjoyed a sigh of relief. They beat the Avalanche (15-15-2) for the second time in nine days and remain unbeaten in the month of December.
“It’s a tough league to win in and they’re finding a way to win,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s a little disappointing how it ended up. You got to feel for (Budaj) back there. ... In the end, we tried to leave it to our goalie to save the game for us, which he did, but it should never have come to that.”
Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov each had a goal and an assist for the Lightning, who turned a scoreless game into a 4-0 lead in a span of 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Budaj stopped 32 shots.
Kucherov scored his 23rd goal of the season, tied for most in the league with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, to open the scoring 9:11 into the second. He took an expert pass from Hedman and beat Bernier over the shoulder to give him a goal for a fourth straight game.
Stralman answered 19 seconds later, followed by goals from Hedman and Gourde. Stralman scored again early in the third to make 5-1.
It nearly wasn’t enough.
“We had a great stretch in the second period and added a fifth at the beginning of the third,” Hedman said. “Then we fell back on our heels and stopped playing. You can’t do that in this league and that’s a good lesson for us.”
Landeskog scored Colorado’s first three goals to pull the Avalanche within 5-3 at the 7:17 mark of the third. He finished with a career-high five points. Bernier made 25 saves for Colorado.
“We made a couple too many mistakes,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.
NOTES: The Lightning are 18-1-1 on the year when Kucherov scores a goal. ... RW Nail Yakupov, who missed the last five games because of an illness, replaced LW Gabriel Bourque in the lineup for Colorado. ... The Lightning have outscored the opposition 33-15 during their six-game winning streak. ... C Alexander Kerfoot missed a third straight game with a foot injury. ... Tampa Bay will be without RW Ryan Callahan for at least three to four weeks with an upper-body injury. No corresponding call-up was made by the team Saturday.