DENVER — Rick Tocchet and his assistant coaches enjoyed a short morning's drive down Speer Boulevard from the Lightning team hotel to the Pepsi Center on Saturday. Another dusting of snow had left the trees lining the avenue through the upscale Denver suburb looking like something from a Christmas card.
He was in need of those peaceful visions by the end of the day. His team may soon be, too.
The Lightning was the tonic the struggling Avalanche needed. It gave up three goals in the first period and ended up losing its fourth straight, 4-3.
Two goals in the final 10 minutes, including one by rookie Steven Stamkos on a four-minute power play, were only more frustrating for Tocchet, who vowed that "life is going to get miserable."
Wojtek Wolski had two goals and Marek Svatos three assists for an Avalanche team Tocchet respectfully asserted was not as good as his, player for player, on Saturday.
Ryan Malone's third-period tip on a power play gave him goals in four straight games, and Vinny Lecavalier scored his 10th of the season in the second and added an assist. But it was yet another partial effort for the Lightning, especially below the top two lines.
Colorado, which entered the game a loser of four of its previous six, scored three goals in less than four minutes to end the first period, eventually prompting the removal of starting goalie Olaf Kolzig for Mike Smith.
Kolzig has been pulled early in his past two starts — Saturday after allowing three goals on 10 shots — but Tocchet blamed the lackluster effort around him.
"As a coaching staff, after the first period we're shaking our heads," he said of his team, 6-10-7 and tied for the fewest points in the East with 19. "It's like some guys are collecting a paycheck. Right now it's a sad statement."
Colorado took a 1-0 lead at 15:20 of the first period on a power play goal by Jordan Leopold. Wolski, who entered the game with two goals this season, scored twice in the final three minutes of the period. David Jones made it 4-1 3:42 into the third period when he pounced on a clearing pass from Smith up the middle and weaved in to score.
What had seemed like a gravy goal eventually became the winner, and Smith took the mistake hard, blaming himself for the loss.
"It cost us the game," said Smith, who made 20 saves on 21 shots. "Down 3-1 my job is to stop the puck. It's my nature. I tried to do too much."
A visiting team struggling in Denver would hardly be a news flash if not for the Avalanche's struggles this season. Star center Joe Sakic was out again Saturday with lingering back issues, and the team has struggled to find an identity and scoring punch, dwelling at the bottom of the Northwest Division.
The Lightning even dodged Colorado's top goaltender, Peter Budaj, but Andrew Raycroft made 17 saves on 20 shots by Tampa Bay.
First Period—1, Colorado, Leopold 4 (Svatos), 15:20 (pp). 2, Colorado, Wolski 3 (Svatos, Arnason), 17:21. 3, Colorado, Wolski 4 (Arnason, Svatos), 18:57. Penalties—McCormick, Col (hooking), 2:28; Willsie, Col (holding), 12:03; Prospal, TB (hooking), 13:46.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 10 (Ranger, Malone), 12:17. Penalties—Lecavalier, TB (high-sticking), :11; Willsie, Col (interference), 7:36.
Third Period—5, Colorado, D.Jones 2 (McCormick, Clark), 3:42. 6, Tampa Bay, Malone 7 (Eminger, Stamkos), 9:19 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 3 (Lecavalier, Eminger), 15:31 (pp). Penalties—Stamkos, TB (hooking), :59; Downie, TB, major (fighting), 5:57; McLeod, Col, major (fighting), 5:57; Arnason, Col (hooking), 8:53; McCormick, Col, double minor (high-sticking), 12:35; Ranger, TB (interference), 17:44. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-4-11—20. Colorado 10-12-9—31. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 6; Colorado 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Kolzig (10 shots-7 saves), M.Smith 5-6-6 (0:00 second, 21-20). Colorado, Raycroft 3-1-0 (20-17). A—18,007 (18,007).