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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov celebrates 500 games in NHL

In his 500th game the right-wing notched an assist and empty-net goal.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal along with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after beating Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal along with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after beating Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 7, 2020
Updated Feb. 7, 2020

TAMPA — A fan used Nikita Kucherov to teach a lesson Thursday morning. The Lightning wing led the league in points last season, the man told his young son, and there he was, not only on the ice for an optional morning skate but one of the first ones out.

It was a moment that exemplified the reigning league MVP’s work ethic. Kucherov is still trying to get better, even as he faced his 500th career game against the Penguins on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.

It doesn’t feel like 500 games to Kucherov. The time has gone by quickly, he said.

“I work hard, and I’m happy where I’m at,” Kucherov, 26, said before the game. “I’m no different than any other guy, but I guess I’m working on the skill a little more than somebody else. It’s a skilled game.”

Kucherov is one of the staples of the Lightning.

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He had 525 career points entering Thursday (212 goals and 313 assists) and sat at No. 4 on the Lightning list, behind Marty St. Louis (972 games, 953 points), Vinny Lecavalier (1,037 games, 874 points) and Steven Stamkos (797 games, 824 points).

Though Kucherov has played fewer games than the other big names, he is scoring at a higher rate. His average 1.05 points per game is the best in franchise history, barely ahead of Stamkos’ 1.03.

Kucherov has had an impact so big with the Lightning and the league that it seems he has been around forever.

He also extended his point streak to nine games with an assist on Steven Stamkos’ first-period goal and an empty-net goal late in the third period against the Penguins on Thursday night. His longest streak is last season’s 12-game streak from Dec. 6-Jan. 3.

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“Players take steps, but to do it every single year ... and to do it without slipping, it says a lot about his game,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He may not end up with the point total (this season) he did last year (128), but I (can) say a lot of facets of his game have still taken another step in improving this year compared to last.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.