Kucherov-Led First Line Melts Avalanche

by | Feb 16, 2024

Kucherov-Led First Line Melts Avalanche

by | Feb 16, 2024

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov scored two goals with an assist while center Steven Stamkos tied the game at 3-3 at 4:00 in the third period to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 6-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Amalie Arena Thursday evening.

Kucherov then gave the Lightning the lead for good at 4-3 on his 36th goal of the season at 8:13 off of assists from Stamkos and Brayden Point.  The Lightning wasted little time rebounding from the two losses last week as they rolled up the 30th win of the season as they now stand at 30-20-5 in tying the Carolina Hurricanes for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The inspired play of Kucherov and the frontline gave the Lightning a more confident approach after losing to the New York Rangers and New York Islanders on the road to begin play after the break.

‘That was the game changer for us and then ‘Stammer’s (Stamkos)’ goal within 20 seconds to answer that,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “I thought in a game we were hopefully going to get points out of and to look up and we are down in the third period. I thought that goal by ‘Stammer,’ I thought kick started us for the rest of the third.”

Kucherov recovered a puck in the Lightning zone and he connected with Stamkos on a long pass which landed on Stamkos’ blade in front of Colorado goalie Justus Annunen. Stamkos, then, went towards Annunen and froze him and then cut back to the goalie’s left side to time the game at 3-3.

“It’s nice to produce in these big games and our line, especially at home, has been really good lately and when we are on the road its a little different,” explained Stamkos. “Tactics are a little different with matching lines and things like that.”

Kucherov, then gave Tampa Bay the lead for good when Victor Hedman controlled the puck in the Colorado zone. Hedman found Point just outside the crease on the left side, He flipped a backhanded pass to Kucherov, who was on the right side of the crease, and lifted the puck high over Annunen’s stick for the 4-3 lead at 8:13.

“‘Kuch’ makes good things happen so you have to put the puck in the right spots and be in the right spots because you know where these guys are going to be on the ice, especially a guys like ‘Kuch’, so you have to put those pucks in the right areas and those guys made some great plays tonight,” said Stamkos.

Point’s timing on the pass was impeccably solid for the set up to Kucherov.

“It’s a great effort by ‘Heddy’ and ‘Stammer’ to keep it in,” noted Point. “It’s a 2-on-1 down low and just trying to get it past the defenseman and ‘Kuch’ makes a great play with his skate and stick go with it.”

Kucherov’s first goal of the evening came at about a 45-degree angle on the right side. Brandon Hagel took the pass from Kucherov and returned it to him as he cut behind Hagel.

Kucherov now leads the NHL with 93 points, 36 goals and 57 assists, as he could threaten his high of 128 points in a season during the 2018-19 season.

“I have watched 55 of those,” noted Cooper on the play of Kucherov this season. “It’s just every single game, the way he works all over the ice, he’s just been committed. He’s a gifted, gifted player. Every single game, the way he competes, with intelligence when he plays, he’s just a hard guy to defend.

The win over the Avalanche highlighted the improvement of the Lightning this season after the two losses last week and then a 3-2 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

“I think there is confidence,” Point noted. “We have beaten some pretty good teams here and competed against good teams, so I think we are starting to build that confidence where we are in a good stretch at home here and we have got a few more games.

With the steadfast overall play of Kucherov, he has to be in the making for the NHL Player of the Year for the 2023-24 season.

“I would be really shocked if he doesn’t,” Cooper said. “We don’t sit up here and talk about that stuff. There’s a lot of exceptional players in this league and then there’s the cream of the crop. You saw a whole group of them tonight and players know when they are going against these guys. I thought everybody showed well.”

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