Nikita Kucherov has career-high five points in Lightning win over Oilers

He has one goal and four assists to move into second in the league in points.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jason Garrison (13) battle for the puck as Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Edmonton, Alberta. [Code McLachlan/The Canadian Press via AP]
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jason Garrison (13) battle for the puck as Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Edmonton, Alberta. [Code McLachlan/The Canadian Press via AP]
Published December 23 2018
Updated December 23 2018

EDMONTON — Victor Hedman was clear on his stance: Nikita Kucherov is the best player in the NHL. He didn't even couch it with "one of."

It's a bold statement from the Lightning defenseman after a game that included Connor McDavid. But Kucherov had five points (one goal) in the Lightning's 6-3 win over the Oilers on Saturday, two more than McDavid (three assists).

"He's been fantastic these last, I don't know, 18 months," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "I think sometimes he's on a different wavelength than most players, especially me. Sometimes he pops out and makes plays that I'm not prepared for."

Kucherov came out of the game second in the league in points, with 57, two behind the Avalanche's Mikko Rantanen and one ahead of Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. McDavid was fourth with 52.

"There was a lot of star power in the game, and I thought they all put on a show," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We were led by 'Kuch.' "

Kucherov put on a show. The game had two classic Kucherov-to-Stamkos goals and a breakaway. Then there was the setup of Tyler Johnson's empty-netter.

Let's break them down:

• The Lightning's first goal was a familiar one: a Stamkos one-timer from the bottom of the left circle, set up by Kucherov, on a power play.

• On Kucherov's breakaway, he picked up a turnover just over the defensive blue line, went in on goalie Mikko Koskinen and wristed the puck in. He made it look easy. Koskinen made a save on an earlier Kucherov breakaway, but he wasn't getting two.

"It was funny on that goal, pretty much everyone said you weren't going to stop Kuch twice," Johnson said. "I think (Brayden Point) and I stopped skating a little bit because we knew it was going in. (Kucherov is) a guy that buries his chances and creates for other guys on the ice. He was fun to watch (Saturday)."

• Kucherov set up a goal by Johnson on a 2-on-1 late in the second period. Point took the first shot, pulling Koskinen out of the net, and Johnson scored on the rebound.

• Late in the third period, Kucherov and Stamkos teamed up again. Stamkos came off the bench to join the play and got the puck immediately. He passed to Kucherov and continued to the net, where Kucherov passed to him. Stamkos scored.

"I passed it up to Stralman and saw McDavid coming up," Kucherov said. "I see Stamkos get in front of him, so me and 'Stammer' did a give-and-go, and Stammer did a nice job. It was a great shot."

• Finally, Kucherov dug a puck out and fed it to Johnson, who landed the empty-netter in the game's final minute and a half.

The five points were a career high for Kucherov, who has 17 multipoint games this year.

"Kuch is an unbelievable player," Johnson said. "He just sees the ice better than anyone else. He was dynamic for us (Saturday), and he's one of the big reasons why we won that game."

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