In the 24 hours leading up to their game against the Ottawa Senators on Monday night at Amalie Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning (28-25-8) were a team in transition, as they had traded number-one goaltender Ben Bishop to Los Angeles and center Brian Boyle to Toronto in separate deals for picks and prospects. A big segment of the fan base felt like the team was giving up heading into Wednesday’s trade deadline. Then Nikita Kucherov stepped up and essentially said, “I’ve got this, fellas.”
Kucherov registered a natural hat trick in the second period, all on one-timers from the right circle on power plays, and added an assist as the Lightning picked up two crucial points against the division rival Senators (33-22-6) in a 5-1 victory. The Lightning are now five points behind Toronto for the second wild card and six behind Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division with 21 games remaining.
Tampa Bay finished 3-for-3 on the power play as Kucherov notched the fourth four-point game and second hat trick of his NHL career. He has nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in the Bolts’ last three games. In his first start as the number-one goalie since the trade of Bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy was spectacular in stopping 39 of 40 shots. Jonathan Drouin had three assists while Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson each notched a pair of assists in the win. Brayden Point and Braydon Coburn also scored goals in what was a physical, feisty contest featuring several scrums and two fights in a game that resembled a playoff game in terms of intensity.
However, during the game’s opening 20 minutes, the Lightning looked like a team that was still dealing with the aftershock of trading it’s former number-one goalie and one of its leaders, as the Senators dominated puck possession, had multiple outstanding looks at the net, and held a 15-8 lead in shots on goal. If not for the efforts of Vasilevskiy, who made multiple fantastic saves, the Sens would’ve held at least a 3-0 lead after the first period. The only goal that got by Vasilevskiy was a one-timer by Kyle Turris that deflected off of Alex Killorn and through Vasilevskiy’s legs near the end of a 5-on-3 power play at the 6:26 mark to put Ottawa up 1-0. Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman got the assists on the goal, Turris’s 22nd of the season. Vasilevskiy’s best save came on a 2-on-1 when he stopped Cody Ceci’s shot, but left a huge rebound. Chris Kelly was there to jump on it, but Vasilevskiy sprawled out and was able to get his stick on it for a highlight-reel stop. While the Bolts slowly picked up their play as the period went on, they were fortunate to still be in this one at the intermission.
The complexion of the game shifted the Lightning’s way in the second period as Point notched his ninth goal of the season unassisted just 1:39 in. Drouin’s forecheck led to Senators goalie Mike Condon having to quickly play the puck to one of his defenseman, who promptly turned it over. Point jumped on the loose puck and roofed it past Condon to tie the game 1-1, his sixth goal in 11 games. After that, the Kucherov One-Timer Show began. At 5:37, with Tom Pyatt in the box for hooking moments before a fight between Braydon Coburn and Mark Boroweicki, Kucherov received a pass from Hedman and launched a one-timer from the right circle past Condon for his 24rd of the season, with Hedman and Drouin notching the helpers. With Dion Phaneuf serving a penalty for tripping, It was Drouin zipping a perfect pass over to Kucherov for another one-timer from the right circle for his second of the night and 24th of the season, as Johnson got the secondary assist. In the final minute of the period, the Senators’ Zack Smith was called for roughing during a scrum in the Ottawa zone. With only 14 seconds left before the second intermission, the Lightning’s power play puck movement shone once again. Drouin passed the puck to Hedman, who served up another pass to Kucherov. The Russian sniper one-timed it again for his 26th of the season, sending the Amalie Arena crowd into a frenzy and prompting the cascade of hats down onto the ice.
Coburn tacked on his third of the season on a wrister from the point that got by Condon with 9:03 remaining, moments after Kucherov missed out on his fourth of the night when he hit the post. Tampa Bay would finish with 34 shots on goal.
The Bolts will return to action on Wednesday night when the host the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm instead of the usual 7:30 pm weekday puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Tallied the second hat trick of his career and added an assist. He has nine points in three games and also had the fourth four-point night of his career.
2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – In his first start after the trade of Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy turned aside 39 of 40 shots. His play in the first period kept the Lightning in it and allowed them time to get themselves into the game.
3rd Star: Jonathan Drouin – Finished with three assists, all of them on Kucherov’s goals.
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