Lightning comeback just short in loss at Colorado

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, center, shoots on Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, center, shoots on Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Published Feb. 23, 2015

DENVER — The Lightning knew Sunday's game would be a tough task, the back end of a back-to-back and final game of a 10-day West Coast trip.

But coach Jon Cooper felt like, for the most part, his team played well enough to win. The Lightning outshot Colorado 32-18, scoring twice in the final eight minutes to pull within one in a last-second flurry.

The problem was Tampa Bay dug itself too big of a hole as glaring errors led to goals in a 5-4 loss to the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.

Tired or not, Cooper said his team wasn't mentally sharp.

"If you told me we were going to score four and give up 18 shots in the game, not a chance in the world I thought we'd lose this game," Cooper said. "That pretty much sums it up."

Rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had the worst of his eight NHL starts, allowing a season-high five goals, including a hat trick by reigning Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon.

A down Vasilevskiy took the blame postgame, calling it a "tough" night, but he said he'll work hard to bounce back.

"Eighteen shots, five goals," Vasilevskiy said. "That's a question just for the goalie."

But the Lightning (37-19-6) didn't pin this one on Vasilevskiy.

"They didn't get many chances, but all of them were prime scoring chances," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Tough to ask your goalie to make a save on a breakaway and point-blank shots."

Cooper said the loss put a sting at the end of an otherwise successful trip.

The Lightning won three of five games, beating the Sharks, Ducks and Coyotes, which Tyler Johnson said gave them confidence the team can go "toe-to-toe" with anyone.

"I think we played even better hockey than what 3-2 stands for," Johnson said.

The Lightning started off strong Sunday as Ondrej Palat gave it a 1-0 lead midway through the first, his third goal in the past two games. But MacKinnon tied it with four minutes left in the period, splitting two defenders on a rush before beating Vasilevskiy with a backhand.

MacKinnon struck again early in the second, deflecting a shot from Ryan O'Reilly. Twenty-nine seconds later, Matt Duchene scored, thanks to a bad turnover by rookie defenseman Nikita Nesterov, who sent a blind backhand pass near his own blueline.

While Nesterov showed his inexperience, he wasn't the only one to make a mistake.

Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman were all minus-3. "It was a tough night for a few of our guys," Cooper said.

Tampa Bay showed some fight, veterans Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle both getting in bouts.

And after falling behind 5-2, Brett Connolly's goal with eight minutes left gave Tampa Bay life.

"As soon as he scored that," Johnson said, "I kind of felt like we were going to get back in it.

The Lightning made a furious rally, Kucherov's goal with an extra attacker with 1:02 left bringing it within one. But it was too little, too late.

"Tough to look at positives when we give up that many turnovers," Stamkos said. "Especially ones that resulted in direct scoring chances."

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Avalanche 1 3 1 5
Lightning 1 1 2 4

First Period1, Tampa Bay, Palat 15 (T.Johnson), 10:53. 2, Colorado, MacKinnon 10 (Landeskog), 16:21. PenaltiesTalbot, Col (holding stick), 17:50.

Second Period3, Colorado, MacKinnon 11 (O'Reilly, Barrie), 3:10. 4, Colorado, Duchene 16, 3:39. 5, Tampa Bay, T.Johnson 23 (Kucherov, Killorn), 5:51. 6, Colorado, MacKinnon 12 (O'Reilly), 12:50. PenaltiesKucherov, TB (high-sticking), :29; Redmond, Col (holding), 8:03; Barrie, Col (high-sticking), 15:12; Morrow, TB, major (fighting), 17:47; Guenin, Col, major (fighting), 17:47.

Third Period7, Colorado, Tanguay 16 (Everberg), 7:20. 8, Tampa Bay, Connolly 12 (Filppula, Paquette), 11:43. 9, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 23 (T.Johnson, Hedman), 18:58. PenaltiesBoyle, TB, major (fighting), 11:18; McLeod, Col, major (fighting), 11:18. Shots on GoalTampa Bay 11-13-8—32. Colorado 5-8-5—18. Power-play opportunitiesTampa Bay 0 of 3; Colorado 0 of 1. GoaliesTampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 4-3-1 (18 shots-13 saves). Colorado, Varlamov 18-15-7 (32-28). A17,385 (18,007). T2:30. Referees—Francis Charron, Wes McCauley. LinesmenBrad Kovachik, Brian Mach.