COLUMBUS, Ohio—Sure, Nikita Kucherov can make silky smooth assists. He can find teammates before they even know they’re open. But the Lightning’s playmaker extraordinaire can also score.
Kucherov showed off his scoring touch with almost identical backhand goals 3:09 apart in the first period.
He has racked up points this year. He has 99 points and 29 multi-point games, and yet, Monday’s 5-1 win over Columbus was only his fourth multi-goal game of the season.
The Lightning needed those two goals more than the final score may appear. Tampa Bay started the game sluggish and was outshot 20-6. Andrei Vasilevskiy got the Lightning through to the intermission without a deficit and Kucherov gave Tampa Bay the lead.
“(Vasilevskiy) and Kuch are really carrying this team, and the engine on this team,” Ryan McDonagh said after the game.
The first goal came 11:18 into the game. McDonagh made a nice play on Pierre-Luc Dubois, forcing a turnover. Mikhail Sergachev passed the puck up the boards, setting Kucherov and Yanni Gourde up in a two-on-one. Kucherov backhanded the puck up over Joonas Korpisalo.
The second goal again came off a turnover. This time Braydon Coburn caused the turnover from Nick Foligno. Kucherov picked up the loose puck, carried it up the ice and backhanded it through Korpialo’s legs.
Kucherov made the plays sounds simple: He saw an opening and he scored. If only it were always that easy.
“That’s what he can do,” Jon Cooper said. “Two magical plays by Kuch. On nights when your not at your best, the team’s not at their best, our big-time player came to play and our goaltender held us in.”
Vasilevskiy almost recorded his third straight shutout, but Lukas Sedlak broke through with 1:45 left in the game. Vasilevskiy’s scoreless streak ended at 183:53, something that ground on all of the Lightning after the game.
Kucherov enjoys dishing the puck out. Earlier this week, after recording three assists, Kucherov said he likes drawing opponents to himself and then finding a teammate for the goal.
He did some of that on Monday as well. Kucherov assisted Brayden Point twice, 36 seconds apart, and Steven Stamkos once. That adds up to Kucherov’s second five-point game of the season, and 70 assists. He can add that assist mark to his list of Lightning records. The previous record of 68 assists was shared by Brad Richards (2005-06) and Martin St. Louis (2010-11).
Kucherov now has 99 points this season. The Lightning would have liked to get him that 100th point, but it’s only game No. 60 (the quickest any Lightning player has gotten to 100 was Vincent Lecavalier in 76 games in 2005-06).
“It’s pretty amazing, kind of hard to believe,” Point said. “But when you watch him in the games, and see what he does, you can see why he has that many points.”
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He did more of that as well, assisting Brayden Point twice and Steven Stamkos once for a five-point game.