COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev said he blacked out for a few seconds after his first NHL goal Thursday night, a rocket slap shot from the point.
"I didn’t know what to do," Sergachev said, smiling. "I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’?"
The rookie defenseman, 19, smoothly celebrated like he had done it a few hundred times, dropping to one knee and giving a huge fist pump. He scored again in the second period to lift the Lightning to a 2-0 victory over the Blue Jackets, a night he will never forget. Neither will his host family from juniors, the Reids, who kept track online from Windsor, Ontario.
"I can’t stop crying," Michelle Reid said. "So, so proud."
Sergachev told the Reids on Monday that he’s not coming back to juniors, and it sure looks like he’s right. The Lightning has until Sergachev’s 10th game (expected to be Tuesday in Carolina) to send him back to juniors or have his affordable entry-level contract kick in. But it’s hard to see that happening, not with the Lightning off to a hot start (6-1-1) and Sergachev playing a regular role.
Victor Hedman believes Sergachev has shown enough to stick.
"I see no reason why not," said Hedman, a Norris Trophy finalist last season as the league’s top defenseman. "We’re happy with the way we’re playing now, and he’s a big part of it."
The Lightning wrapped up an impressive road trip, taking five of six possible points against the red-hot Red Wings, Devils and Blue Jackets, who had entered their games with Tampa Bay a combined 13-3. "Extremely pleased," coach Jon Cooper said.
It won’t get easier Saturday with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins coming to town. But Cooper believed this would be a barometer game, calling Columbus one of the league’s top three teams. And the Lightning more than held its own.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp, outdueling fellow Russian Sergei Bobrovsky. The line of Yanni Gourde-Brayden Point-Ondrej Palat remained relentless, helping contain Blue Jackets star Artemi Panarin. The team gave up fewer quality scoring chances, with Cooper saying that many of Columbus’ 43 shots were harmless. Nikita Kucherov’s record seven-game goal streak to start the season was snapped, but he had two assists.
Was the Lightning perfect? No. It is still trying to find consistency over three periods, Columbus controlling the second, outshooting the Lightning 18-5. But the Lightning is finding ways to win and has gotten off to the kind of strong start it believed was so important.
Sergachev has experienced his share of ups and downs in his first eight games this season. In a few games he had to fight for ice time, logging five minutes in one, eight in another. But he played one of his better games Tuesday in New Jersey.
"I’m trying to build my confidence and play better ‘D,’?" Sergachev said. "And the goals just came along with it."
You saw Sergachev’s heavy shot on his first goal. On his second, you saw his array of skills. Sergachev instinctively slipped into the slot, and Kucherov found him with a perfect pass. Sergachev took a second before whipping a wrist shot glove side on Bobrovsky.
"The last couple games have been his strongest of the year," Cooper said. "He’s earning his ice time. You can see the skill."
Sergachev’s celebration was more subtle on his second goal; he raised an arm and smiled before getting mobbed by teammates. Veteran Chris Kunitz popped off the bench to give him a pat on the back. Kucherov hugged him, sharing a few words.
Don’t look now, but Sergachev has as many goals (two) and one more point (six) than wing Jonathan Drouin, the other part of the June blockbuster trade with Montreal that brought Sergachev to the Lightning.
"That’s what he’s capable of doing," Hedman said. "He’s going to have a lot of good years in this league. We’re happy to have him,"
And it looks like for good.
First—1, TB, Sergachev 1 (Namestnikov, Kucherov), 17:48. Penalties—Savard, CBJ, (cross checking), 9:33; Kunitz, TB, (slashing), 20:00.
Second—2, TB, Sergachev 2 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 15:37. Penalties—Hedman, TB, (tripping), 12:14.
Third—None. Penalties—Foligno, CBJ, (tripping), 1:31; Callahan, TB, (tripping), 8:09. SOG—TB 13-5-3—21. CBJ 10-18-15—43. PP opps—TB 0 of 2; CBJ 0 of 3. Goalies—TB, Vasilevskiy 6-1-0 (43 shots-43 saves). CBJ, Bobrovsky 4-1-0 (21-19).