BRANDON — Alex Killorn scored the empty-netter to seal Saturday’s 6-3 victory over the Capitals, but Nikita Kucherov created the play.
Kucherov’s play was bigger than an assist on an empty-netter implies. Jon Cooper called the it outstanding.
This wasn’t a speed, finesse game the Lightning and Kucherov have trademarked this season. Kucherov used speed, but this wasn’t a finesse kind of play.
Victor Hedman threw the puck down the ice, aiming for the empty net with about a minute left. The shot was just wide and looked like an icing. Kucherov, at the end of his already long shift, sprinted down the ice and just barely beat out Alex Ovechkin to prevent the icing call.
“That was a great play to beat the icing,” Cooper said. “Not only beat the icing, but then win a battle on the boards to make sure Killorn got the puck.”
Coming in near top speed, Kucherov managed to backhand the puck around the post, in front of the net, as he circled behind it. Kucherov then followed the puck up the boards, meeting first Nicklas Backstrom then John Carlson along the boards.
Kucherov stuck with the puck as it bounced around between the three players and the wall. He knocked it loose toward Killorn, entering the zone. Killorn finished the play with a nice shot against Ovechkin, trying to play goalie. The score gave Killorn a hat trick, the Lightning an important victory over a potential playoff opponent and Kucherov another point to add to his league-leading 117.
It may have been one of Kucherov’s most hard-earned point of the season.
“The play doesn’t even have a chance if he doesn’t beat out the icing there,” Ryan McDonagh said. “It was a huge effort by him. Another turnover he caused forced the puck to be loose for Killer. Great effort at a crucial time of the game, still plenty of time for them to potentially get down and get another chance.”
It wasn’t the kind of play Kucherov is known for, but McDonagh wasn’t surprised to see it by any means.
“He’s just as physical as our other guys for his size and stature,” McDonagh said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed how smart he is.”
Kucherov’s play doesn’t usually set him up for battles along the boards, but he does it when it’s called for. He fit right in with Killorn and Cirelli, regulars on the forecheck, on that play.
“He knows going forward that playoff-style games are going to have a little bit more bumping for him,” McDonagh said. “He’s not afraid and knows he can come out of those piles with the puck and make plays from there too.”
In a game full of hustle plays, Kucherov made the hustle play of the game. Saturday’s was a game of depth scoring, but Kucherov can’t be criticized for not showing up this time.
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Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.