Kucherov Tabs 100th Assist as Lightning Down Leafs

by | Apr 18, 2024

Kucherov Tabs 100th Assist as Lightning Down Leafs

by | Apr 18, 2024

Reflecting on the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) for the 2023-24 season, Tampa Bay’s 6-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday evening left no doubt that Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov had already ascended to the top level for being the recipient of the award.

At 17:05 of the second period, Kucherov hit Brayden Point with his pass in the slot and Point scored to hand Kucherov his 100th assist on the season in the final game of the regular season.

He gave Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead as the Lightning throttled the Maple Leafs in generally controlling the contest from start to finish.

“It’s a special moment,” commented Kucherov. “Thanks to the teammates and coaching staff for putting me in position to have success and I am in position to be with great players and I would say it is a good one.”

Kucherov is the fifth player in the all-time history of the NHL to pace his team with 100 assists since the league began in 1917. The consideration of how strong a player has become is put under a microscope when you add Edmonton center Connor McDavid, who also recorded his 100th assist this season.

“Think about it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It’s over 100 years that this league has been around and two guys did it in the same year. That’s pretty cool.”

Kucherov, McDavid, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Orr have recorded the 100 assists in a single season and Wayne Gretzky accomplished the feat in 11 different seasons of his miraculous career.

“While we are talking about ‘The Great One’, the first text that I got when I went and checked after the game, the class act that he is, he just gave glowing comments about Nikita Kucherov,” explained Cooper. “It was pretty cool.”

Point led Tampa Bay with 46 goals this season as Kucherov netted 44 with those 100 assists. Kucherov is the leading point-maker with 144, six beyond Colorado’s Nate McKinnon, who has 138.

“That’s a spot that he likes to make so I just caught it and shot it and hoped it went in,” Point explained. “He gave me two looks in the slot earlier in the period that Jones made good saves on. I was a little nervous and I was really happy to see it go in for Kuch.”

Cooper has been a steadfast member of the Lightning organization as he was coach in the AHL in Norfolk in 2010 and 2011 before moving up to Syracuse in 2012.

He picked up his 500th career win with the Lightning earlier this season and he talked about the emotional investment in the organization.

“When I have been a part of this organization, it’s how close-knit the teams I have had over the years have been,” said Cooper. “When you start getting into rare air which is where Kuch is right now, you never know how many times this is ever going to come around.”

Kucherov is like the quarterback or the point guard from his wing position as he also is one of the best puck handlers in the league with the ability to make those scoring passes or score, himself, when he has the opportunity.

“There’s definitely some moments when my career is over that I will look back on,” commented Cooper. “Two of those were the last 10 seconds of when we won our Stanley Cups, but this is tucked right behind it.”

Score The Goal: In addition to Kucherov’s historic greatness on Wednesday evening, Toronto center Auston Matthews has had a solid season as well as he led the league with 69 goals scored.

Gretzky leads the NHL with 92 in the 1981-82 campaign and he also had 87 in ’83-’84.

Matthews’ 69 is tied for 15th in league history.

“They’re a good team over there,” said Cooper. “If we were going to give up four, it would have probably been cool if ’34’ had gotten one of them. There’s no doubt.”

Interestingly, he had 12 of Toronto’s 38 shots on goal and he recorded 16 shot attempts.

“He hit a crossbar and here you talk about the exploits of Nikita Kucherov, Austin Matthews is right up there with him. He is just a different player,” analyzed Cooper. “He’s a pure goal scorer, but the one thing about Austin is that he is going to have 69. I think that 70 is in his future and beyond.”

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