Lightning has goalie Peter Budaj’s back after near-collapse

Published December 17 2017
Updated December 17 2017

LAS VEGAS — After the Avalanche made a seemingly insurmountable Lightning lead shaky Saturday night, defenseman Victor Hedman was the first to skate toward backup goalie Peter Budaj and give an encouraging pat on the pads with his stick.

Budaj’s stat line in the 6-5 victory over Colorado wasn’t pretty.

But the Lightning believed it didn’t give him much of a chance on a couple of power play goals in the third period, and the 35-year-old veteran bounced back with some big game-sealing saves in the final minutes.

"At the end of the day, he really saved us," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "There wasn’t much he could do on those goals."

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog had spectacular tips on two of his three goals. He cruised in all alone on the other after a bad line change by the Lightning. Budaj, making just his sixth start of the season, said he would like to have at least one of the goals back, likely Nathan MacKinnon’s wrist shot in the third.

"I just look at it, it’s a win, we’re in the business of winning," Budaj said.

And Budaj played his role, including a huge stop on Blake Comeau with two minutes left to preserve the one-goal lead.

"You just feel for (Budaj)," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "We just didn’t play responsible in front of him. And we leave it to our goalie to save the game for us, which we did. But it shouldn’t have to come to that."

CLOSE CALL: Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson was suspended for two games Sunday by the NHL Department of Player Safety over his boarding hit on Lightning center Vladislav Namestnikov near the end of Saturday’s second period.

Namestnikov had taken a shot off the rush and Johnson delivered a huge slash then a shove after the shot, with Namestnikov flying face-first into the boards. Namestnikov temporarily left the game but returned for the ensuing power play.

Johnson received a five-minute major and game misconduct. It was a scare for the Lightning, which lost right wing Ryan Callahan for at least 3-4 weeks after his nasty spill into the boards Thursday.

"Dangerous play," Cooper said of Johnson’s hit. "You just hold your breath on those. Got a little fortunate with Vladdy. Obviously didn’t get as fortunate with Callahan."

GETTING OFFENSIVE: The Lightning’s four goals from defensemen Saturday made them No. 2 in the NHL in goals from the blue line (23), behind St. Louis (24).

Stralman had two, with Hedman scoring one and Mikhail Sergachev scoring the game- winner, his fifth this season. That made Sergachev just the fourth rookie in NHL history to score five game-winning goals in a season.

MINOR MATTERS: Four Lightning prospects made Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Forwards Taylor Raddysh, Brett Howden and Boris Katchouk and defenseman Cal Foote will compete in the tournament later this month in Buffalo. … The AFL Syracuse Crunch’s 10-game winning streak came to an end Saturday with a 4-2 loss to Lehigh Valley.

Quote to note

"He might have been the best player on the ice."

Cooper on Hedman’s performance Saturday (goal, assist, plus-3 in 25:38)

Numbers game

0 Shots on goal Saturday for center Steven Stamkos, just the second time in 32 games this season he was held without a shot.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.