Kucherov scores a hat trick in All-Star semis

by Gary Shelton on January 29, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov had a Patrick trick in the all-star tournament./JEFFREY S. KING

Kucherov had a Patrick trick in the all-star tournament./JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 4 a.m.

In the city of Hard Scratch, Iowa, some may still think he's an up-and-comer. Promising, maybe. But nothing more.

In the burg of Elbow, Texas, they may think he's another mysterious player who brought a scoring touch from Russia. That's about it.

In the metropolis of Goobertown, Arkansas, maybe they know about the hands, but they don't know know about the hunger.

Face it. There are pockets of the country where Nikita Kucherov is thought to be

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Kucherov  has become one of the NHL's elite players./CARMEN MANDATO

Kucherov has become one of the NHL's elite players./CARMEN MANDATO

a good player, but maybe not a great one. There are sections on the map where Kucherov isn't on the map. There are places where he is thought of as something less than elite, where he is mortal.

One by one -- from Lick Skillet, Alabama to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota -- those places are fading. These days, Kucherov is conquering all doubts. These days, he is a star. His stick is Zorro's sword, Robin Hood's bow, Paul Bunyan’s axe.

Take the semifinals of the NHL all-star tournament on Sunday, if you doubt it. Kucherov scored a hat trick -- the first since the NHL went to a three-on-three tournament to lead his Atlantic Division all-stars to a 7-4 victory.

On the first, he lifted a puck high over the shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist. On the second, he made a beind-the-back pass to Jack Michael, who in turn returned a behind-the-back pass to Kuchorov. On the third, he made an ephus shot, a shot before his final feint at the puck.

Yeah, he's pretty good.

"He's a magical player," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He used that move once last year in a shootout against Buffalo, and I wasn't sure we were going to see it again. That was in a shootout when he had time to think about it. This time he didn't really have time to think about it, and he still pulled it off. That's what these games are, to showcase talent and the boy showcased it tonight."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said it was a treat for the fans to see.

"That's what it's all about," Stamkos said. "You want to put on a show for the fans, and obviously, they're cheering for the home team. For Kuch to go out there and get the hat trick and to see the response from the fans, that probably made it worthwhile for everyone,

"We've seen (the third goal) before in that shootout (vs. Buffalo).It doesn't surprise any of us. I was pretty excited when it went in. I certainly don't think I could pull it off."

Mind you, Kucherov had been scuffling coming into the All-Star weekend. He had gone seven games without scoring, and his stick might as well have been a slab of wood.

But great players are great players. Sidney Crosby didn't have a hat trick. Neither did Alex Ovechkin.

"I don't think he had to score a highlight reel to prove that he's elite," Stamkos said. "But to the casual fan who doesn't get to see our games, he gets to showcase his skill. I think everyone who follows hockey knows he's elite, and I'm happy to share the ice with him."

Kucherov enjoyed his spurt.

"That was great," Kucherov said. "I've been in a little slump in scoring. Just to get the scoring back.

"There are a lot of things to get better at. You have to improve on something. I still have a long way to go."

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed three goals in each of his two half of goaltending. Brayden Point had a goal and an assist. Steven Stamkos had an assist.

The Lightning plays against Winnepeg Tuesday night at 8 p.m.

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