DENVER — You could sense it from the start Tuesday night, the Lightning setting the tone in the first period with its speed and a shoot-first mentality.
Catalyst Ondrej Palat gave the Lightning the lead for good by driving to the net for a dirty goal as a power play expired. Then came showtime, highlight-reel scores featuring tic-tac-toe passing. It almost looked like, last season?
The Lightning appears to be getting its swagger back, and at a fine time.
Tampa Bay beat the Avalanche 4-0 for its season-high matching third consecutive victory, its first such streak since Nov. 19-25. The win put the Lightning into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, and within a point of Montreal for third in the Atlantic Division.
"Now I think we got that swag back the way we used to," Palat said. "We're going to be good."
It was the first time Tampa Bay (22-17-4) flew home happy, having lost the previous five road trip finales this season. And it was Tampa Bay's first win at the Pepsi Center since 2004.
More important, the Lightning — finally healthy — is starting to look like the group that made the Stanley Cup final just seven months ago.
"We can win every single night," coach Jon Cooper said. "Even if we're down, we have that feeling, the guys think, 'We can come back.' "
Captain Steven Stamkos is catching fire, his two goals giving him nine in its past 12 games, putting him on pace for 40. Palat had his first goal since Oct. 23. Tyler Johnson, who missed half the season with injuries, got in on the act with his first goal since Nov. 25, just his fifth of the season.
Maybe it all started Friday in Edmonton, when Tampa Bay overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to win in regulation, its first such comeback in franchise history.
The Lightning finally blended its skill with will, a trademark of last season's team. When Tampa Bay gave up the tying goal late in Saturday's game in Vancouver, wing Nikita Kucherov said the feeling on the bench was, "We've got this." And they did, winning 3-2 in overtime.
Tampa Bay appeared to carry some momentum over from Saturday.
"As this road trip has gone on, we've gotten better and better and better," Cooper said.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, the team MVP, was strong again with 21 saves. And Bishop, arguably the best puck-handling goalie in the league, set up the Lightning's dazzling, how-did-they-do-that second goal.
Bishop gloved a shot from Jack Skille, then aggressively sent an outlet pass to Palat at the blueline. Palat carried the puck into the Colorado zone and fed Vladislav Namestnikov, who made a one-touch pass from the slot to Stamkos, who finished.
Palat, the straw that often stirs Tampa Bay's drink, set up Stamkos again four minutes later with a slick pass from behind the net. And Stamkos, playing with the skilled Namestnikov and Palat, was flying with six shots.
"That's probably our best structured game, start to finish, we've had all year," Bishop said.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Hedman, Killorn), 10:29. Penalties—Tanguay, Col (hooking), 8:23; Filppula, TB (hooking), 17:48.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 19 (Namestnikov, Palat), 1:39. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 20 (Palat, Namestnikov), 5:16. Penalties—Redmond, Col (elbowing), 1:49; Hedman, TB (hooking), 6:36.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, T.Johnson 5 (Hedman, Kucherov), 11:55. Penalties—Redmond, Col (slashing), 15:10; Landeskog, Col (tripping), 16:10. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 15-12-11—38. Colorado 9-8-4—21. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Colorado 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 17-13-3 (21 shots-21 saves). Colorado, Varlamov 15-12-3 (38-34). A—14,227 (18,007). T—2:18.