Kucherov’s splashy goal lifts Lightning again

by Gary Shelton on February 1, 2020

in general

Kucherov scored the final goal for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

Saturday, 4 a.m.

This is how you will remember him, with the puck on his stick, with the ice open in front of him.

Nikita Kucherov, the best player in the NHL a year ago, has been downgraded to "pretty good" for most of the season. But in the third period of the Lightning's 4-3 victory over Anaheim Friday night, he once again looked like a star.

Kucherov was skating down the ice when he was fed a nice pass by Steven Stamkos, but Ducks defenseman Josh Manson hit him. Kucherov shook off the hit, however, then took back the puck and backhanded it in past goaltender John Gibson for the Bolts' fourth goal of the night.

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It was Kucherov's 23rd goal of the season, elevating him into a tie for 13th among league scorers, two shy of the Top 10. "A highlight-reel goal," Lighting coach Jon Cooper called it.

Tampa Bay is now 31-15-5 on the season. The Lightning is 7-0 against teams from the Pacific Division.

"First of all, Manson’s hunting him down," Cooper said. "He hits people.You have to be fearless going down the middle,. He bounced off it. He takes that backhand every day. To be able  to do that against an elite goalie like that ... Not too many people can do that."

Anthony Cirelli added a goal and an assist for the Lightning. Also scoring for Tampa Bay were Ondrej Palat and Erik Cernak.

"I thought (Cirelli) was the best player on the ice tonight," Cooper said. "One thing is his skating keeps improving."

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky won again (he's 14-0-2 since mid-December). It was his 150th win in 246 games, placing him in the top five fastest goalies to get to 150. Ken Dryden (241), Andy Moog (245) and Braden Holtby (246) are the only other goalies to reach the 150-win milestone in less than 250 games.

"We’ve got some special players," Cooper said. "He's right at the top. "

The Bolts play against San Jose tonight. The puck is scheduled to drop at 10:30 p.m.

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