In part due to injuries, the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't producing goals at nearly the same rate as last season, but Nikita Kucherov has been one of the league's most consistent performers for much of the past six weeks.
Kucherov has played a key role in giving the Lightning the chance at a winning road trip, but to accomplish that task, they'll have to earn their first victory at the Colorado Avalanche in 12 seasons Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay (21-17-4) is averaging 2.50 goals this season, down from its league-best 3.16 in 2014-15, and is one point shy of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. The Lightning haven't scored more than three goals in any of their last six games but have earned back-to-back victories on their four-game road trip.
Kucherov scored the first of his team's three third-period goals in a 3-2 victory against Edmonton on Friday. He tallied an even more important one, the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over Vancouver on Saturday, giving him 10 goals and 10 assists in his last 16 games.
"These last couple of games ... it hasn't been perfect," coach Jon Cooper said. "But we played pretty well, the effort has been outstanding and we got four points out of it."
Tampa Bay has dealt with a number of injuries but only one player is currently out, forward Joel Vermin (lower body). That improved health has Cooper optimistic about the rest of the season.
"We're halfway through the season and we're not where we expected to be, but we finally got our team back. Now we've got to put a consistent effort together,'' Cooper said. ''It's been hard to be consistent when lines are changing every single night because guys are getting hurt. We've finally got healthy here and got a little stability in our group.
"You can see the confidence growing in our room with every single period we play."
The Lightning will try to finish 3-1-0 on their trip by ending a six-game skid in Colorado (21-19-3). They haven't won there since March 1, 2004, and are 2-8-2 with two ties all-time in Denver.
A leaky defense has played a large role in the last two defeats in Colorado as Tampa Bay has given up a combined 11 goals. The Lightning lost 5-4 in their latest visit Feb. 22, and have dropped three of the last four overall, including a 2-1 defeat Oct. 29.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 shots in that game but made 16 saves on 20 shots before getting pulled in a 6-3 loss in Chicago on Sunday. That performance ended a three-game win streak for the Avalanche, who earned all of those victories at home.
"Defensively I don't think we were where we needed to be tonight," said forward Matt Duchene, who had a pair of goals and an assist. "We gave up some pretty good chances and kind of hung our goalies out to dry a couple of times."
Duchene, who has 21 goals, has scored five times with four assists in his last seven games. He has one goal and two assists in his last five games against Tampa Bay while Nathan MacKinnon has five goals and five assists in five lifetime matchups.
Kucherov has one goal and two assists in his five games versus Colorado.