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Avs, Lightning set for early-season marquee matchup

The Tampa Bay Lightning survived Boston's formidable top line in a 4-3 shootout win Thursday night. Now they'll face arguably a tougher one when the Colorado Avalanche visit Saturday night.

The Avalanche, fresh off a 5-4 overtime win at Florida on Friday night, start the second half of their six-game road trip against the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The biggest challenge for Tampa is stopping the combination of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

There was some question as to whether MacKinnon would play Friday night after he sustained a leg injury on a check by Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins on Wednesday night. MacKinnon didn't take part in Friday's morning skate, but he was in the lineup against the Panthers.

"His leg is pretty sore. He got hit there the other night by Hornqvist," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Friday morning. "I give him a lot of credit. I know he was hurting on the bench the whole game and he battled through and ends up getting us a big goal in the third period, has a really good third period for us."

MacKinnon not only played, he got the winner in overtime and logged 21:36 on the ice, the most by any Avalanche forward. It helped Colorado extend its streak of getting at least one point in every game this season to seven.

The Avalanche are off to a strong start, having swept a four-game homestand to begin the season. Colorado has earned five of a possible six points in its first three games of this road trip, which continues against reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis on Monday.

MacKinnon is the most dangerous skater on the Avalanche, but Rantanen -- who enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19 -- and Landeskog (who also had a strong 2018-19 campaign) are off to good starts, as well, this season.

Rantanen and MacKinnon lead the team with 10 points each and Landeskog has six through the first seven games.

It makes stopping them a priority for the Lightning, but Tampa Bay offers the same problem for the Avalanche with a top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. Coach Jon Cooper put them together this season and it gives the Lightning a powerful top line.

"These guys, they make passes without even looking at one another," Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh told the Tampa Bay Times. "It's a challenge to make sure you make them go the full length of the ice and keep your head on a swivel at all times."

The Lightning are off to a slow start compared to last season's NHL-tying 62-win campaign. That went for naught when they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Columbus. Now the goal is to follow Detroit's example. The Red Wings won 62 games in 1995-96, lost in the conference finals and then went on to win consecutive Stanley Cup titles.

Putting Stamkos, Point and Kucherov together might help that goal. Through seven games the trio has combined for 22 points, but Cooper won't hesitate to tinker with his lines if needed.

"When they're rolling, you keep them together," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "When other lines need a boost, they'll be split up. So far, it's worked for us."

--Field Level Media

Updated October 19, 2019

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