TAMPA — He raised his arms to the heavens and raised one skate off the ice as he circled away from the net and toward his teammates. Amalie Arena’s foghorn was at full blast. Lightning fans shouted his name.
Nikita Kucherov scored a goal in the first period Thursday to snap an 11-game drought and open the scoring in what became a 5-2 Lightning victory against the Canucks in front of announced sellout crowd of 19,092.
Someone on the Lightning bench told coach Jon Cooper that Kucherov must weigh 50 pounds less after his goal.
"You could tell by his celebration he was happy to score," Steven Stamkos said.
Stamkos had a two-point night, scoring his 20th goal of the season to make it 4-0 in the second, then assisting on Victor Hedman’s power-play goal late in the third.
Kucherov, who leads the NHL with 68 points, added an assist to go with his monkey-off-the-back goal.
"Those two guys weren’t going to stay off the (score sheet) forever," Cooper said of Kucherov and Stamkos, his two biggest guns.
It started with Cooper mixing his lines by splitting Kucherov and Stamkos.
Kucherov skated with Brayden Point and Alex Killorn, while Stamkos skated with Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde.
"Sometimes guys need a little spark or the team needs a spark or something’s just stale and you need to change it," Stamkos said.
Cooper has tinkered with his lines in effort to find a mix that will work.
"It’s our job as a staff to try and find what works," he said.
It worked Thursday.
Kucherov matched his season high with seven shots. It carried over to the power play, which produced a pair of goals, including Gourde’s 20th of the season 1:38 into the second period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
Adam Erne, called up from AHL Syracuse in the morning, scored on a blast from the left faceoff circle to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead in the second.
It was that kind of night. Everything seemed to work.
Even when Vancouver scored twice in the third period to make it a two-goal game, the Lightning (37-14-3) answered with Hedman’s goal to put the win on ice.
Kucherov set the tone with his 28th goal of the year, his first since Jan. 9 against Carolina.
Kucherov talked after Wednesday’s practice about how the drought was wearing on him. He studied video of all his shifts and paid close attention to all his shots to see what was wrong with his game.
On Monday he had six shots and 14 attempts in a loss at Edmonton.
His goal Thursday was not vintage Kucherov from earlier this season. On this one, he flipped a backhander from in front of the net, and the puck found its way past Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson.
"You weren’t going to keep that kid down for very long," Stamkos said. "He’s an unbelievable talent.
"You always go through stuff like that in your career. No matter how great of a goal scorer you are, how great of a player you are, you’re going to go through tough stretches. It’s what you do when you’re going through that. You could see it was coming. He was getting the chances; he was getting the shots. You worry when you’re not getting those chances. It was a matter of time."
Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 28 (Killorn, Hedman), 14:36. Penalties—Johnson, TB, (slashing), 6:33; Boeser, VAN, (holding), 19:50.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Gourde 20 (Johnson, Sergachev), 1:38 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Erne 1 (Sustr, Namestnikov), 13:40. 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 20 (Johnson, Gourde), 17:14. Penalties—Hutton, VAN, (roughing), 7:15.
Third Period—5, Vancouver, Boeser 26 (H.Sedin, Edler), 6:28 (pp). 6, Vancouver, Baertschi 12 (Edler, Horvat), 10:55. 7, Tampa Bay, Hedman 8 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 16:21 (pp). Penalties—Girardi, TB, (high sticking), 5:12; Girardi, TB, (high sticking), 5:12; Virtanen, VAN, (hooking), 15:59. Shots on Goal—Vancouver 10-9-10—29. Tampa Bay 11-17-8—36. Power-play opportunities—Vancouver 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 2 of 3. Goalies—Vancouver, Nilsson 6-9-1 (36 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 32-10-2 (29-27). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:25. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Dan O’Rourke. Linesmen—Ryan Daisy, Jonny Murray.