BOSTON — Sixty-two wins was not the goal Saturday afternoon. That much was clear as soon as the Lightning emerged for warmups without Andrei Vasilevskiy in the lead.
Not that it mattered. Players repeatedly said the NHL wins record would come in the course of play. That’s what happened as the Lightning earned win No. 62.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos capped their own record-setting regular seasons with two more milestones and were among six Lightning players to score goals in a 6-3 win over Boston.
Tampa Bay rallied from a 2-0 first period deficit to match the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings’ NHL record of 62 wins.
“We didn’t sit there are circle 62 as our number to hit,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But it is kinda cool that we actually got to that number.”
The Lightning scored four unanswered goals, the first coming on Erik Černák’s beautiful wrist shot from the slot to put the Lightning on the board early in the second period.
Stamkos won another faceoff on a penalty kill, igniting a shorthanded breakaway goal that he backhanded past Tuukka Rask to tie it and tally his 98th point, a new single-season career high.
Anthony Cirelli gave the Lightning the lead late in the second, with a shot from the top of the left circle that deflected off Bruins forward Danton Heinen’s stick to beat Rask. The goal was reviewed but officials determined Alex Killorn’s brief contact with Rask didn’t constitute goaltender interference.
Kucherov capped his NHL scoring title with a goal and an assist, finishing with 126 points and surpassing Alexander Mogilny’s mark for most points in an NHL season by a Russian player.
A minute into the third period, Kucherov scored what would be the decisive goal when he slid a casual-looking backhand past Rask for a beautiful finish that set off a wild celebration on the Lightning bench.
Kucherov assisted on Tyler Johnson’s empty-netter in the game’s final minute, something he called “a special moment.”
The Lightning sat four players (including Brayden Point) and rested Vasilevskiy. But not much has been able to slow down this team.
In the end, the Stanley Cup matters most, but the Lightning has been on a truly historic road to get to the playoffs.
Montreal of the 1970s dominates the conversation when it comes to the NHL’s best team ever. The 1976-77 Canadiens had 60 wins and would have had even more with the benefit of overtime. The Canadiens also didn’t have a salary cap. Those differences are what makes sports fun and GOATs debates.
There’s no argument that the Lightning is the best team in the last 20 years. Or that Kucherov had the most impressive season of last 20 years.
In just about every category Tampa Bay is the best or has the most since (fill in the blank). Those blanks are more than 20 years ago and many of them feature a team with Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky.
They can add them to the ones they’ve already set this year, highlighted by Kucherov’s franchise single-season points record and Stamkos’ franchise career goal record.
At one point, Stamkos commented every game seemed to mark the Lightning being the fastest to this or the first to that. It’s been just that kind of season.
It’s over now, though.
Cooper called the step between games 82 and 83 a leap. Now it’s time for the Lightning to go after that ultimate goal: the Stanley Cup.