Lightning explode once again against Columbus

by Gary Shelton on February 19, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Kucherov has 99  points on the season./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Here's a question for the ages:

If it came down to it, with the game on the line, could Nikita Kucherov score on Andrei Vasilevskiy?

Granted, it's a difficult question. Kucherov is scoring like he's playing on a pinball machine. He had five more points Monday night, padding his league-leading total to 99 points in 60 games. He scored his 28th and 29th goal of the season, and he set a Lightning record with 70 assists.

And Vasilevskiy was almost flawless again. He was within a minute and 45 seconds of posting his third shutout in a row. Over that span, he went 183 minutes and 53 seconds without giving up a goal. He has stopped 91 of his last 92 shots he has faced.

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Vasilevskiy almost had another shutout./JEFFREY S. KING

All of it -- plus two goals by Brayden Point and one by Steven Stamkos --  led to a 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Point now has 35 goals and Stamkos has 33. Together, the trio of Kucherov, Point and Stamkos have 97 goals. It was the sixth straight win for Tampa Bay.

“It was evident that we did not have our legs tonight, and they were a determined group," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They obviously know where they are in the standings, and they’re fighting for their lives to make the playoffs. They played hard. It was tough on them probably a little bit to come into the first break down two. Two magical plays by Kuch. He’s a special player. On nights when you’re not at your best, the team’s not at their best, big-time player came to play and our goaltender held us in. We felt pretty fortunate to come away with two points tonight.”

It was the second five-point night of the season by Kucherov and the third by a Lightning player (Brayden Point also had a five-point game).

Cooper said that Kucherov's scoring is not overlooked.

"There aren’t a lot of secrets in this league, and he’s been around long enough now his point totals increase every single year," Cooper said. "You see the way the players are out against him every single night. He’s always facing the best D. Kuch is on the map in this league, and now he’s separated himself as one of the elite players in the best league in the world and fun to watch.”

Kucherov said the key was keeping his game basic.

"Just keep it simple, create some offense and make sure we play good defensively,” Kucherov said. “We didn’t have a good start. I think they came out hard and we didn’t play the way we wanted. Vasy was really good out there, and he kept us in the game I think.

"After the first period, we came back to the room. Everybody knew we had more time with the puck and we just had to relax and keep it simple and start playing our way. We stay confident all the time and don’t put too much pressure on ourselves.”

Point has a good viewpoint of what Kucherov has accomplished.

“When he’s wheeling like that, he’s a really tough player to defend," Point said. "When he’s going like that, you just try to get open for him. It seems like the last five games or whatever, when he’s on the ice, he makes something happen. Actually all year he’s kind of done that. You just try to get open for him. When he’s moving like that, it’s tough to defend for sure.

“It’s pretty amazing (how close Kucherov is to 100 points). Kind of hard to believe, but when you watch him in the game and see what he does, you can see why he’s got that many points.”

Said Ryan McDonagh: “Our first period was a little bit lopsided as far as who controlled the play, but he makes two incredible, big-impact plays like that, and most importantly, we’re ahead on the scoreboard. It gave us a chance to kind of regroup here and make some adjustments and talk some things out so we were a little bit better the rest of the game. It was great to see him get rewarded. He’s playing the right way and going about his offense the right way and it’s great to see.”

The Bolts are now 45-11-4 on the year and have 94 goals and 249 points on the season. Kucherov is first in the league in points, Point is fourth and Stamkos is eighth.

McDonagh was also impressed with Vasilevskiy:

“Vasy was huge the whole game," McDonagh said. "It was very unfortunate they were able to get one by him. He had a great streak going there for us. About as big of an impact as he has, him and Kuch together are really carrying the team and the engine of this team. It was great that he was able to have a great start, unlike ourselves in front of him, and allowed us to regroup and find our legs.”

Victor Hedman left the game after 8:45 of the first period with a lower-body injury.

The Bolts play in Philadelphia tonight against the Flyers. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.



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