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Kucherov Hits 100 as Bolts Sweep Road Weekend

Earlier this month, Team Hughes made Nikita Kucherov the first pick of its all-star team. But they would find themselves on opposite sides for today’s matinee game. The New Jersey Devils and the Tampa Bay Lightning both had games yesterday afternoon, and both emerged victorious. Kucherov led the Lightning to victory over the New York Islanders yesterday with another three-point game, bringing his league leading point total to 98 entering today’s matchup. Could he hit the hundred mark against his former all-star teammates?

Since both teams were on the second game of a back-to-back, they would both be starting their back-up goaltenders. Perhaps, these two teams- ranked at almost at the bottom of the league for save percentage (both at .892)- would have a high-scoring dual today?

Uneventful First

This game was an important one for both teams. The Bolts are currently holding down the final wildcard spot in the Eastern conference. The Devils are on the outside looking in as they trail the Lightning by five points and have played two fewer games. Fans were anticipating a playoff feel. The teams seemed to be feeling each other out through most of the period. Both teams got some looks, but neither found the back of the net.

Hitting the Hundred

The Lightning got started early in the second period of this one on a beautiful setup by guess who? Nikita Kucherov skated right in on net and drew the Devils players over to him, leaving Victor Hedman with a clean shot at the net. Kucherov’s shot attempt didn’t quite make it but created a rebound right to Hedman. Hedman tipped it home for his tenth goal of the season just 1:27 into the frame. Kucherov got the first assist for point number 99 on the season. The second assist went to Brandon Hagel and with it, the man known as “Bagel” extended his point streak to a baker’s dozen. Hagel’s 13-game point streak is the longest active point streak in the NHL right now and the fifth longest in the NHL this season.

But Kucherov was not yet done for the period! Under three minutes later, Kucherov took a pass from Hedman and got it to Brayden Point. Point fought his way through the New Jersey defense, held onto the puck just long enough to ensure that he had goaltender Akira Schmid beat and rifled it past him. Point’s 30th of the season put the Bolts up 2-0. The assist gave Kucherov 100 points in just the 60th game of the season for the Lightning (59th game for Kucherov as he missed one game earlier this season).

Devils Jump Back In

The Devils found themselves down 2-0, but trailing in games is nothing new for them. Their opponents have scored first in 42 of their 58 games this season. They lead the league in come-from-behind victories with 19.

Not even two minutes later, the Bolts took a penalty. Penalties plagued the Lightning yesterday in New York and Coach Jon Cooper made clear that his team needed to stay out of the box. New Jersey’s power play has struggled this season, but they looked great on this one as Tyler Toffoli scored his 25th of the season. Both Hughes brothers assisted on the goal.

More Penalty Problems in the Third

The Lightning were clinging to the slimmest of leads to start the third period. One priority for the period was to stay out of the penalty box. But that proved to be a struggle. At 2:33, Tyler Motte clipped Colin Miller with his stick to give the Devils an early power play. The Lightning penalty killers did a masterful job on this one, holding the Devils without a shot.

But less a minute after that kill, Emil Martinsen Lilliberg shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. And, once again, the Bolts found themselves short-handed. This time, New Jersey controlled play for most of the two minutes but still managed just one shot and were held off the scoreboard.

Big Boys Coming Through

With two penalties killed off, the Lightning finally had a chance to create some offense of their own. Brandon Hagel came through once again as he found the rebound of a Brayden shot and drilled it straight to the back of the net to give the boys in blue a bit of breathing room.

Despite the penalties, the Lightning were impressive this period. They held the Devils to just 3 shots the entire period- only one in the final seven minutes and none in the final two minutes with goaltender Akira Schmid pulled for the extra attacker.

Finally, with 1:35 to go in regulation, Nikita Kucherov found the empty net to close this one out for Tampa Bay.

What a weekend for the Lightning as they take two crucial road games from potential wildcard contenders. Nikita Kucherov led the way with a seven-point weekend to surpass the 100-point mark. Today’s four-point game was the fifth four-point game of the season for the league’s leading scorer.

Three Stars

1- Nikita Kucherov- 1 goal, 3 assists- 4 points, now up to 102 on the season

2- Brandon Hagel- 1 goal, 2 assists- 3 points to extend his point streak to 13 games.

3- A tie between Victor Hedman and Brayden Point- each with a goal and an assist.

Up Next

Continuing their way up through the Metro division, the Lightning will finish out this road trip with a game in Philadelphia on Tuesday night at 7pm.

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