TAMPA — In the waning minutes of their dismantling of the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, the Lightning had just one thing left to do.
Feed Carter Verhaeghe the puck.
The 24-year-old has spent his rookie season finding his NHL footing, through inconsistent playing time, through changing positions. But on this night, he was the star.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper sent him into the game to join the team’s power play unit. Verhaeghe already had two goals on the night — as many as he’s has all season — and Nikita Kucherov fed him streaking across the left circle.
Verhaeghe’s one-timer filled the back of the next, giving him his first career hat trick, and a flurry of caps rained onto the home ice.
“That’s gotta be the thrill of a lifetime,” Cooper said. “He’s kinda bounced around with us, different positions, and been in and out of the lineup. You have to find a way. But it’s been leading up, he’s had a couple of good games here at the end of the road trip and he was feeling it tonight.”
The outcome had been long decided, since the Lightning scored six goals in the second period, tying their most in a single period in franchise history. They turned a game between the league’s two hottest teams — both clubs entered the night having won seven straight, only the second time in league history that two teams with active streaks that long met — into a rout.
With the Lightning having a 5-on-3 advantage with 2:06 remaining, Cooper was determined to give Verhaeghe a game to remember.
“The whole thing was if we’re going to get any chance at all, let’s just keep possession, but if somebody’s going to shoot it, let’s make sure it’s (No.) 23,” Cooper said. “It’s big enough to score a goal in the National Hockey League, but to get three in a night, that’s one you’re going to remember.”
“I knew everyone was going to try to get me the puck and Kuch made a great play to me,” Verhaeghe said. “I think there were a couple other ones where guys were trying to make plays to me and just missed. It’s a pretty special feeling and I’m happy I got it."
“He could have had four or five,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said of Verhaeghe.
The Lightning’s nine goals tied their most this season. They beat the Rangers 9-3 on Nov. 14.
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Tuesday’s game was close until late in the second period. The Lightning allowed one goal on a giveaway by Stamkos. Another hit off Victor Hedman’s skate. Otherwise, all the bounces went the Lightning’s way.
Included in the Lightning’s six-goal second period were three goals scored in a 56-second span late in the period that broke the game open.
Alex Killorn gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead when he won a loose puck battle in the neutral zone and beat Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom with 4:53 left in the second.
Verhaeghe then made it a two-goal game with a one-timer from the right circle, a goal that originally was credited to Mitchell Stephens, who tapped in the rebound. Kucherov and Erik Cernak scored within the next minute.
“Things were going right for us tonight,” said Braden Point, who scored his team-high 18th goal and had three assists, extending his season-high point streak to six games. “I think that’s the only way you can score nine goals, if if you get some bounces and things go right for you. But we stuck with it and we didn’t sit back.”
With the win, the Lightning (25-13-4, 54 points) moved into second place in the Atlantic Division. When their eight-game win streak began, Tampa Bay sat in sixth place in the division, three points out of a playoff position.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.