Once again, Kucherov leads Lightning victory

by Gary Shelton on October 17, 2017 · 3 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov now has seven goals in six games./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Kucherov now has seven goals in six games./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Tuesday, 2 a.m.

Have you heard this one before?

Nikita Kucherov stars. The Lightning win. A hot opening to the season continues. Andrei Vasilevskiy wins another one.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning these days, victoriess come as if they are being spit out by a photo copier. Same stars, same smiles, same results.

It happened again Monday night, as the Bolts beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. It was the eighth straight game in which Tampa Bay has beaten the Red Wings. It's like a singer singing his favorite song, like an actor who won't leave a film franchise behind.

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Vasilevskiy stopped 29 shots in victory.

Vasilevskiy stopped 29 shots in victory./JEFFREY S. KING

This time, Kucherov had two goals, including his third game-winner of the year. Vasilevskiy had 29 saves for his fifth win. Tyler Johnson had a short-handed goal.

And so on.

Kucherov's start continues to be amazing. He has scored in every Lightning game so far this year, a franchise record six.

“He’s a special player,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s got so many assets, but his best is shooting the puck. He works at his game. That’s all I can say is the time and effort, you watch him, he didn’t show up to Tampa in September. He showed up in July. He was on the ice four or five times a week just working on his game, and we’re reaping the benefits of that.”

Vasilevskiy is so committed that he built a synthetic rink at his home.

“He works at his game,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if kids stay up late to watch this, you work at your game, you’re going to get better. He scores 30 and then he gets 40. Well, he’s not sitting here saying, ‘Yeah, I got 40.’ He says, ‘Well, I want to get 50.’ You kind of like the hunger of that, but that doesn’t come easily. You have to work at that. The traits of a player of his magnitude is he makes players around him better as well. He’s really turned into a top player in this league.”

Kucherov is the fourth NHL player in the past 30 years to score in each of his team's first six games, joining Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins, 1992), Steve Yzerman (Red Wings, 1988) and Keith Tkachuk (St. Louis Blues, 2008). He has seven goals, second in the League behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (nine).

The Bolts' defense was again anchored by Victor Hedman.

“I’d like to see what his ice time was down the stretch last year,” Cooper said. “He was a player we were leaning on quite a bit. You think about the run we made last year trying to get into the playoffs, I don’t know what his point totals were, but they had to be darn near tops in the league. He put the team on his back. Now we’ve got guys back. We’re a little healthier now, but he’s still the guy that’s driving the bus.”

The Bolts took a 2-0 lead Monday night, but Detroit came back to tie the game before Kucherov's second goal.

Said Cooper: “This is a typical Tampa-Detroit game. There’s not much room out there. There were times in the game they had us on our heels. I thought we gave them a lot of respect, especially in the neutral zone. We weren’t on top of them the way we should have been. But I did like our determination in the third. We got that early lead and it was, again, I think we gave them more than we should have.”

Tampa Bay travels to New Jersey for tonight's game. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.


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