A repeat of the 2021/22 Stanley Cup Final takes place on as the reigning Champions Colorado Avalanche travel to Amelie Arena to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Avalanche dashed the Lightning's dream of winning the Stanley Cup three times in a row last season, ending a 21-year drought for their franchise by winning the Final in six games.
Immediately afterwards, senior members of the Lightning vowed to bounce back, and this fixture will have long been circled on the calendar.
The Lightning (32-16-2) are third in the Atlantic Division with a strong 20-4-2 record on home ice, which included a franchise record 12-game winning run.
Hampered by injuries in the first half of the season, the Avalanche (27-18-4 and 14-9-1 on the road) are fourth in the Central Division and currently relying on the second Wild Card spot from the Western Conference to make it into the playoffs.
In a tight battle to ensure they have the opportunity to defend their title in the post-season, the points are certainly more important for the Avalanche, but the Lightning will be fully motivated to get one back on their Final conquerors.
|What||Colorado Avalanche @ Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Where||Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay|
|When||19:00 ET, Thursday 9th February|
|How to watch||NHL.com/ ESPN, SN360, SNE, SNO, TVAS|
|Odds||Colorado Avalanche +105, Tampa Bay Lightning -125|
The added spice fixture may well have come at a good time for the Lightning who sit a comfy ten points ahead of fourth placed Buffalo Sabres in the Atlantic Division but have lost their last two games.
Heading into the All-Star break, the Lightning won three in a row against playoff calibre teams (Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins and LA Kings) and thought they had put their inconsistencies of the first half of the season behind them.
So, a 7-1 defeat to Florida Panthers and 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks came as somewhat of a surprise coming out of the short break, but the challenge of the Avalanche is one they will certainly be able to get up for and will serve as a yard stick for their +1200 credentials to win back the Stanley Cup.
The defeat to San Jose Sharks snapped the record 12-game home winning streak for the Lightning at home which was the sixth time they have lost back-to-back this season, but they are yet to lose three in a row.
Success brings with it higher demands of players and like Tampa Bay over the past three seasons, Colorado were forced to let several of their key players leave in the summer to enable them to stay within the NHL's tight salary cap.
Forwards André Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri plus netminder Darcy Kuemper were the highest profile departures via free agency, and in addition to long-term injuries to Captain Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin and Bo Byram in-season, the Avalanche have taken time to re-assert themselves.
Mikko Rantanen (34 goals, 27 assists), Nathan MacKinnon (14 goals, 41 assists) and Cale Makar (13 goals, 32 assists) have led the way for Colorado and earned themselves All-Star honours this past weekend in Florida.
Their form has kept the Avalanche in touch of the playoff positions while they have patiently waited to return to full fitness and adjust to losing the three key pieces of their championship team.
While still without Landeskog, the Avalanche have gone 7-2-1 in their last ten games and look much more like the side who are +650 to successfully retain the Stanley Cup.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is aiming to record a point in a 17th straight home game against the Avalanche which would break his own record of 16 set in 2018/19.
Kucherov represented Tampa Bay at the All-Star weekend and has 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) during a the 16-game home point streak which contributes to his team leading 75 points (20 goals, 55 assists) over the season.
Brayden Point tops Tampa Bay for goals with 31 with Captain Steven Stamkos second with 24.
Solid secondary scoring particularly from Brandon Hagel, Alex Killorn and Nick Paul plus an offensive punch from defence in Mikhail Sergachyov has helped the Lightning score an average of 3.56 goals per game which ranks fourth in the league and have a 26% powerplay which is third.
In comparison, the Avalanche have scored an average of 3.02 which ranks 21st and their powerplay is currently 23.9% and ninth.
Tampa Bay owns a stronger penalty kill at 79.6% (15th) to the Avalanche's 77% (19th), but Colorado have an overall superior defensive record conceding an average of 2.71 goals per game (ninth) compared to Lightning's 3.02 (14th).
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