NEW YORK — Watching wing Nikita Kucherov deliver in these playoffs, former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said it reminds him of Brad Richards in 2004.
On Tampa Bay's only Stanley Cup team, Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with 12 goals.
"Whenever we needed a big goal, he got it," Andreychuk said.
Sounds a lot like Kucherov, whose tying goal eight minutes into the third period Friday enabled the Lightning to pull off a 2-1 overtime victory over the Islanders in Game 4, giving it a commanding 3-1 series lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
The Lightning can move on to the conference final with a win Sunday at Amalie Arena.
Kucherov, who leads the NHL with eight playoff goals, has 19 the past two postseasons, passed Richards for third on the franchise's all-time playoff goals list. And if Kucherov keeps it up, he could be holding the Conn Smythe Trophy in June.
"He's proving he's not a one-hit wonder," coach Jon Cooper said. "He did it last year in the playoffs. … Now we're back and on the biggest stage, he just continues to amaze."
Kucherov forced overtime in Wednesday's 5-4 Game 3 win with a goal with 48 seconds left in regulation. After his tying tally Friday, defenseman Jason Garrison ended the game one with a blast from the point in overtime's second minute.
All three of Kucherov's goals in this series have been in the third period. "I like playing under pressure," Kucherov said. "I'm just trying to help my team as much as I can. We don't care who scores. I'm just lucky."
Cooper said the Lightning was "extremely fortunate" to leave Brooklyn with back-to-back wins, the Islanders having outplayed them for huge chunks of both. New York dominated Friday's first period with a 35-10 advantage in shot attempts, but it led by just a goal, even with a four-minute power play. That was largely due to goalie Ben Bishop.
" 'Bish' stood on us head and saved us," defenseman Victor Hedman.
Then Kucherov put on his cape. Reunited in the second period with Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson — a line that carried the Lightning in a first-round series win over the Red Wings — the trio combined for the tying goal. Killorn and Johnson did the dirty work with a forecheck behind the net as Kucherov craftily slipped into the left circle. Johnson found Kucherov, who beat goalie Thomas Greiss short side.
"He's feeling it," Bishop said of Kucherov. "People don't understand how smart a player he is. Obviously he's got the skill, but he's a very smart player. He's finding areas and getting his opportunities."
Cooper said that once Kucherov scored, "you could tell on our bench we had a good feeling of what could happen, and it happened."
Kucherov, who can be a restricted free agent this summer, is raising his price tag — from a bargain $700,000 — with another clutch postseason performance. And he's far from satisfied; he had a stone-cold stare instead of a smile after the game. "It's not over yet," he said.
That attitude is what helps Kucherov rise to the occasion.
"When you talk about not getting too high or too low and no panic, he kind of embodies that," Killorn said. "We can always rely on him."
Said Hedman: "He's been a hero through the whole playoffs. And he was in the right spot again."
First Period—1, New York, Okposo 2 (Kulemin, Nielsen), 4:20 (pp). Penalties—Blunden, TB (rough), 2:44; Callahan, TB, double minor (roughing), 14:41.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Cizikas, NYI (tripping), 1:33; Boychuk, NYI (slashing), 11:42; Nelson, NYI (tripping), 18:08.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay Kucherov 8 (Johnson), 7:49. Penalties—None.
Overtime—3, Tampa Bay, Garrison 1 (Sustr, Palat), 1:34. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-11-5-2—24. N.Y. Islanders 16-6-6-0—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; N.Y. Islanders 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 7-2 (28 shots-27 saves). N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 5-5 (22-20), Berube (1:30 second, 2-2).