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You can’t go to sleep on Lightning

By Martin Fennelly
Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov does it again Thursday night in Los Angeles. [AP photo]

You stay up to watch these guys.

The Lightning were in Los Angeles last Thursday night, into Friday morning, and it was worth keeping your eyes open. You can't take your eyes off the best team in hockey.

You watched to see if Nikita Kucherov, the most sensational player in all of hockey at the moment, would get his goal. He did.

You watched to see is Steven Stamkos would get one. He did.

You watched to see what how the Lightning would roll over the Kings, leaders of the Pacific Division. The Lightning led 4-0 after one period. It scored those four goals in two minutes and two seconds, a franchise record. The final was 5-2.

The Lightning is the best team in the NHL. Everyone is flying. Wrap your minds around it, Tampa Bay – and smile wide.

The Rays are coming off yet another non-playoff season. The Bucs are inexorably sinking toward the football's Mariana Trench, where all those other putrid Bucs seasons – and coaching changes – came to rest.

Then there is the best team in hockey. 13-2-2. That's the Lightning record. Sixteen goals in 17 games. That's the 24-year-old Kucherov, man on fire, the leading goal-scorer in hockey.

Kucherov did it again Thursday, on a breakaway, off a perfect feed from Stamkos, the leading scorer in the league with 30 points in 17 games. Kucherov has 29 points. They are the best pairing in hockey, a veritable wrecking crew.

Kucherov's start has been son electrifying that the idea of 50 goals in his team's first 50 games is coming into the picture. It's early, very early, but Kucherov is pursing legends like Wayne Gretzky, Rocket Richard, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull, all 50-in-50 guys, all Hall of Famers. Gretzky holds the record with 50 in 39 games, which is incomprehensible.

I don't know why 50-in-50 matters so much, but it does. Gretzky has said, in print, that 50-in-39 is his favorite among the mountain of records he owns. Following 50-in-50 is like watching a long baseball hitting streak. It's dramatic. As an Islanders fan growing up, I watched Bossy chase and catch 50-in-50. It was riveting stuff.

If Kucherov keeps it up, all of hockey will be watching him. He has scored in 14 of the Lightning's 17 games. He has that incredible shot, can create it on his own, but he has Stamkos just in case. By the way, Stamkos has Kucherov, too. They are unstoppable.

There's a big difference between being the best team in hockey in November and the best team in hockey in June. But you can't take your eyes off the Lightning. They're off to an amazing start. They are buzzing – like an alarm clock. You can't go to sleep on Nikita Kucherov and his teammates. They won't let you do it.