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Former Finals foes clash when Avalanche, Lightning meet

Feb 13, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Artturi Lehkonen (62) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal /W? in the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Chasing improved positions in their respective conference standings, the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off impressive road wins.

The Stanley Cup finalists from the 2021-22 campaign – which ended with the Avalanche seizing their third championship — will conclude their season series Thursday night at Tampa, Fla.

On Tuesday in the nation’s capital, the Avalanche wasted a quick 2-0 lead but eventually roared away to a 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals behind a four-point night from Artturi Lehkonen, who had two goals and two assists.

After winning for the first time in five matches (1-3-1), the Avalanche find themselves in second place and jostling back and forth among the top three spots of the Central Division.

They are just behind the first-place Dallas Stars at the top of the division with the Winnipeg Jets lurking behind them, though the Stars and Jets hold a decisive games-in-hand advantage.

The trio atop the standings are nine points clear of the fourth-place St. Louis Blues, a current wild-card holder. The separation has allowed the top three to work their way out of downturns like the one that plagued Colorado.

Avs coach Jared Bednar liked his club’s start Tuesday and welcomed Lehkonen’s contribution.

“Offense has been hard to come by for us,” Bednar said. “Artturi had a big night. … We needed to spread (the scoring) around a little bit.”

Mikko Rantanen was the beneficiary of a spectacular between-the-legs pass from Lehkonen in the second period. The right wing notched his 29th goal, his sixth game-winner and 249th of his career off the slick feed to take a 4-2 lead.

Lehkonen, who missed 35 games with an injury, last found the net on Nov. 1.

“Tonight (Lehkonen) was really good. It’s not easy to come back,” said Rantanen, whose goal moved him past Gabriel Landeskog and into seventh place in franchise history.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper will send out his team to even the season series after losing 4-1 at Colorado on Nov. 27.

The defeat was part of a miserable November: The Lightning fell to 10-7-5 overall after the setback and ended the month with a 6-7-2 record, their worst thus far.

However, Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Boston Bruins brought the club to 10-3-0 since Jan. 9.

Tampa Bay held on to third place in the Atlantic Division with the victory, staying one point in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were a 4-1 winner over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

In addition to the tight advantage over the Maple Leafs, the Lightning own a three-point advantage over the Detroit Red Wings, but Cooper’s squad has played three more games than Toronto and two more than the Wings.

Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was the standout performer in the road win, stopping 36 of 38 shots, including the Bruins’ Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle and David Pastrnak in the shootout.

“We played hard tonight,” said Cooper, whose team went 2-0-2 on the post-All-Star-break trip and will start a four-game homestand against Colorado. “The guys dug in. … The Big Cat (Vasilevskiy) saved our skin in overtime.”

Cooper’s penalty-kill unit snuffed out three Boston power plays in the third period, leading to Brayden Point’s game-winning shootout goal.

–Field Level Media

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