Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
The Tampa Bay Lightning, unbeaten in their last six games, continue their five-game road trip with a difficult stretch of three games in four days, continuing with a matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday afternoon.
The Lightning (6-1-1, 13 points) defeated Colorado 1-0 on Wednesday and play at Arizona on Saturday night after the matinee matchup with the Golden Knights (4-4-1, 9 points). The game will be played during the day on Friday because of Nevada Day, a holiday celebrated Nevada's statehood anniversary.
Vegas had big news off the ice Friday by extending defenseman Nate Schmidt's contract to six years, worth $35.7 million. Schmidt is in Austria, where he is practicing with the Vienna Capitals while serving a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
Tampa Bay is 2-0-1 on its road trip (five points in three games) that started with an overtime loss against Minnesota on Saturday followed by a win the next day against Chicago.
The Lightning lead the NHL for points-percentage (.813).
"That was a good one," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said following the defensive struggle against Colorado. "It was just fun to be a part of and have the seat I have to watch it."
Nikita Kucherov netted the game's only goal on a third period power play with less than 14 minutes remaining. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 23 shots to record his first shutout of the season.
The Lightning went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill against the Avalanche to improve to 32-of-33 this season. They remain in the lead in the NHL for penalty-kill percentage at 97. They rank tied for third in the NHL for least amount of goals allowed per game (2.25).
Tampa Bay is still in search of its first win over Vegas after getting swept in last season's two-game series by the expansion Golden Knights. In the one meeting played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Lightning and Knights appeared ready to go to overtime last December, but Shea Theodore scored to break the tie with three seconds remaining to help Vegas earn the win. The Golden Knights won the game 4-3.
"I think hands down scoring a game-winner with only a couple seconds left has to rank up there for me," Theodore told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Thursday after practice. "I remember there was a battle for the puck in the corner. I was just kind of waiting at the top of the circles on the other side.
"I took a quick glance at the clock. I knew it was winding down. The pass came across, and I knew I only had a couple of seconds left, so I just tried to get it off. The fact the puck popped out to me like it did was perfect."
The Knights are looking for consistency after having a three-game winning streak snapped in a home shootout loss to Vancouver on Wednesday. After the game, Vegas coach Gerard Gallant expressed disappointment at his team's effort in the first two periods.
He is concerned about going against Tampa Bay, which he calls a "favorite for the Stanley Cup again this year."
"They're a top team ... we're going to have to play a great game," Gallant added. "They've got a lot of offense, a lot of talent, great goaltending. They've got everything you need from a hockey club."