TAMPA—Nikita Kucherov celebrated his goal with a massive scream. Behind him, Victor Hedman made sure to collect the puck.
That goal was the game-winner in the 3-2 win over Detroit, but that’s not why it made history. With that goal, Kucherov notched his 109th point of the year. He passed Vincent Lecavalier for the highest-scoring single season of any Lightning player ever. That’s a puck you keep.
“Kuch is an unbelievable player,” Lecavalier said in a statement provided by the team. “He is so dominant and talented that it is no wonder he broke my Lightning record for most points in a season. I’d like to personally congratulate Nikita for the accomplishment and wish him and the team further success as they approach the playoffs.”
The goal was a rocket at point-blank range. Hedman dug the puck out from the boards behind the net and passed to Brayden Point, who sent it to Kucherov in the slot. Kucherov fired the puck off the post, then crossbar, before it landed in the net.
Kucherov added a second goal late in the game for good measure, another rocket, this time from the outside of the right circle.
The Lightning may say the team isn’t paying attention to regular-season records, and it certainly does have bigger goals in mind, but that doesn’t mean players and coaches aren’t aware of those records as they come. Players are especially aware of their teammates’ accomplishments.
Kucherov is having the kind of year few players have ever seen a teammate have.
“I’m at a loss for words trying to describe him as a player,” Hedman said to in-arena reporter Caley Chelios after the first period.
The Lightning announced Kucherov’s accomplishment with a video a few minutes after the goal. As fans caught on to the magnitude of this particular record, they rose in a standing ovation. Players, even those on the ice awaiting the face off, tapped their sticks in appreciation.
"Players, their dreams are to play in the NHL,” coach Jon Cooper said. “To come in and be able to set records, he passed an icon in Vinny and there's no doubt it means something.”
Kucherov also passed the 108 points Connor McDavid led the league with last year. He is on pace for 130 points, which would tie four other NHL players, including Wayne Gretzky (1993-94) and Phil Esposito (1972-73).
Kucherov isn’t exactly coming for Gretzky’s NHL record of 215 points (1985-86), but he’s on his way to the best season this century. Joe Thornton has that mark currently with 125 points in 2005-06.
“Welcome to the 100-point club,” said Esposito, the Lightning founder who maxed out at 152 points in 1970-71. “He got 100 points last year, and he’s playing better this year, and this is a better team this year. I’m glad he got 110.”
He would love to see Kucherov get to 120 with 13 games left in the regular season.
Kucherov isn’t one to say much about his accomplishments. He said this is special to him and thanked his teammates for their help along the way. Mostly, Kucherov lets his play, and celebrations, do the talking.
His teammates, however, are quick with the praise.
“He’s a pretty incredible player,” Ryan McDonagh said. “At intermission we said ‘why stop now.’ Sure enough, he goes out there and scores another. That’s the kind of player he’s been all season, always wanting more.”