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Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

Nikita Kucherov has a pair of goals and an assist, and J.T. Miller adds a goal and an assist.
J.T. Miller scores a goal against Cory Schneider in the first period. [Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images]

NEWARK, N.J. — Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business shook the walls of the Lightning locker room not long after it dispatched the Devils in Wednesday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.

The 3-1 win was sparked by Nikita Kucherov, who put his game into overdrive with two goals, an assist, a game-high seven shots and a big first-period hit that might have set the tone for the rest of the game.

"For sure," J.T. Miller said. "Any time you see one of your top offensive players and one of the best in the league offensively hit a guy like that, that's a big-time hit. That gives the group a spark. I think that was a big part of the first period.

"When he's involved, engaged physically like that, it sends a message to the team that everybody's got to be engaged. This is a big game, and from there on out, we played a really solid game."

Kucherov's hit on Sami Vatanen near the Devils' bench knocked the defenseman from the game with an upper-body injury and sparked retaliation and several minor scuffles.

It also sparked the Lightning, which leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 with Game 5, and a chance to clinch the series, Saturday at Amalie Arena.

After Miller tied the score at 1 in the first, and after a Cory Conacher goal was waved off following a review because the Lightning was offside, Kucherov scored the first of his two goals to give the Lightning the lead.
He added an empty-netter late for his fourth goal and ninth point of the series.

" 'Kuch' flexed his muscles," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's been pretty dynamic on the power play, but (Wednesday) I thought, all around, he was the best player in the ice."

That is saying a lot, because goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was also on the ice, finishing with 27 saves. The only goal he allowed came with the Devils on a 5-on-3 power play.

"I just loved the response," Cooper said. "It was bang, bang, bang."
Kucherov's hit on Vatanen did not draw a penalty, though it might get a closer look by the league.

Kucherov said he was just trying to finish a hit. He said he was sorry Vatanen left with an injury and did not return.

But he made no apologies for the way he played.

"I think it's the way the game is (played) right now in the playoffs," Kucherov said. "Too much physical game. Not enough space. Might as well sometimes throw a hit."

The Lightning's top line produced seven points. Miller and Kucherov had the goals and assisted on each other's goals, and Steven Stamkos assisted on Miller's goal.

Now the Lightning returns home with a chance to close out the series.
After Monday's loss in Game 3, the Lightning wanted to bounce back, Kucherov said.

"Thankfully we did it," he said. "We came out hard. We came out a different team than the game before. We played really good defensively. We kept playing the same way. We didn't change anything. Coming back to home ice and in front of our friends, it's definitely huge."

Speaking of defense, the Lightning killed off six of seven penalties. The lone exception was when it was down two men.

It also bottled up New Jersey's top scorer, Taylor Hall, limiting him to one shot that came in the third period.

"The guys really bought into playing in their own end," Cooper said.

Added Miller, "If the PK doesn't come up big, who knows where the game would have gone. It was a huge part of it."

With the prospect of the series being tied with a loss, the Lightning took care of business.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," Stamkos said. "We expected ourselves to bounce back, and we did."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.

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