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Nikita Kucherov dazzling playmaking on display

Kucherov's three-assist performance Thursday sparks Lightning 4-1 win over Detroit
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates the goal scored by center Steven Stamkos (91) with Kuch picking up the assist during third period action at at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/26/17).
Published Feb. 16, 2018

Everyone at Amalie Arena thought Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov was going to shoot during a late second-period power play Thursday night.

And why wouldn't they?

Kucherov had a game-high 14 shot attempts (six on goal) against Detroit. He was feeling it.

But instead of taking a slap shot from the right circle, Kucherov faked, then dished a cross-zone feed to a wide-open Steven Stamkos. Stamkos one-timed it into a nearly-empty net, one of the easiest goals he probably scored.

"He's one of the best in the game for a reason," Stamkos said of Kucherov. "The ability and the respect that everyone has to have for his shot, it makes that pass even more lethal. Because everyone, including the goalie, is expecting a shot.

"He has the ability to fake it. And, for the most part, I've just got to make sure I hit the net on those ones."

Kucherov said he hadn't been hitting the net, especially that period, which is why he decided to pass to Stamkos.

"I saw Stammer wide open," Kucherov said. "And when I see a shot, I shoot. When I see a guy open, I pass the puck."

Kucherov is probably one of the more unselfish scorers in the league. He said his preference for playmaking dates back to his days in Russia, where he was taught to look for the open man.

"Sometimes I feel definitely better when I pass the puck and someone else scores," Kucherov said. "You feel better than even scoring sometimes. And especially on that one. It was a great play by (Victor Hedman) and Stammer got open. That was tic tac toe."

And Kucherov wasn't done yet.

Kucherov, who had his 31st goal of the season in the first period, came racing down the right side early in the third period. He looked like he was in a position for a backhand shot near the right post off the rush.

But Kucherov made a slick back pass to a streaking Alex Killorn, who finished it off to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead.

"Not a lot of guys can do that," coach Jon Cooper said.

But Kucherov can. As Red Wings All-Star defenseman Mike Green noted, Kucherov slows the game down so much, "he's a step or two ahead of guys."

"We get spoiled by watching him play," Hedman said. "He's on his game, which he has been most of the year. We try to get him the puck as much as we can."