Since being split up last month, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have found success on separate lines. Kucherov has piled up the assists and points, while Stamkos has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch. With the final game of a tough Western Canadian trip looming, the Tampa Bay Lightning sought to continue their current point streak with a win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Sixty minutes and another offensive outburst later, the Lightning put a bow on this road trip and head into the Christmas break maintaining their hold on the top spot in the NHL.
Kucherov extended his point streak to eight games, tallying a goal and four assists, while Stamkos and Tyler Johnson each scored twice as the Lightning (28-7-2) took down the Oilers (18-15-3) by a score of 6-3 at Rogers Place. Kucherov has recorded four goals and 11 assists during his current point streak. Tampa Bay finished up their road trip with a 3-0-1 record, collecting seven of a possible eight points. In addition, they extended their point streak to 12 games (11-0-1) while maintaining their eight-point lead over Toronto and Winnipeg, who remain tied for second place. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 28 shots, as the Lightning gave up fewer than 30 shots on goal for the first time since giving up 26 to the New York Rangers in a 6-3 win on December 10. This game also marked the seventh straight game in which Tampa Bay has scored at least four goals.
On the other side, Mikko Koskinen took the loss for the Oilers, giving up five goals on 44 shots (not including an empty net goal towards the end of the game). Connor McDavid assisted on all three Edmonton goals, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Alex Chiasson, and Leon Draisaitl hit the back of the net for the Oilers, who have now lost three in a row.
The stars came out to play in the first 20 minutes
Both teams exchanged a few quality chances early on, but it was the Oilers who got on the board first when McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins worked some magic in the offensive zone. Jesse Puljujarvi chased down a puck in the corner, bringing Johnson and Braydon Coburn with him. Puljujarvi slid it to Nugent-Hopkins, who worked a give-and-go with McDavid. Nugent-Hopkins took the return pass, firing it past Vasilevskiy for his 12th goal and a 1-0 Oilers lead at 10:15. McDavid became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 200 assists before their 22nd birthday and the ninth player in league history to hit 200 helpers in 250 or fewer games.
— NHL (@NHL) December 23, 2018
Over the remainder of the period, the Lightning heavily tilted the ice in their favor, generating multiple high-caliber looks that nearly ended up in the back of the net. Stamkos nearly tied it up when he had an open shot from the left circle, only to see Koskinen stretch out to make a spectacular save. However, Stamkos would make up for it during a late power play, blasting one of his patented one-timers from the left faceoff circle past Koskinen at the 17:09 mark, tying the game 1-1 with his 19th goal of the season and 12th in the past 12 games. Kucherov and Hedman earned the assists on that goal.
In the dying seconds of the period, Vasilevskiy came to the rescue:
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 23, 2018
McDavid used his trademark speed to get around Ryan McDonagh, cutting to the net and waiting to get Vasilevskiy out of position. Unfortunately for him, the Lightning’s netminder sprawled out and robbed him with his right pad. It was an exclamation point to a period in which the Bolts out-shot the Oilers 16-8.
Kucherov takes over during the second period
With both teams at 4-on-4 to start the period, Kucherov began to take over. He stole the puck from McDavid, creating a breakaway chance for himself. However, Koskinen denied him with a stellar save after Kucherov attempted a deke to the backhand.
Late in the 4-on-4, Stamkos took a hooking penalty, and Edmonton made the Lightning pay on the ensuing power play. Darnell Nurse uncorked a shot from the point that got deflected by Chiasson through Vasilevskiy’s legs, giving him his 16th goal and handing the Oilers a 2-1 lead at 2:50.
It’s usually unwise to allow one of the opposition’s best players multiple breakaways in one period. Tampa Bay made Edmonton pay for that mistake moments after Anton Stralman broke up a chance for Nugent-Hopkins next to the Lightning net. Kucherov collected the puck and found himself on another breakaway. This time, he changed up his tactics, electing to shoot the puck instead of going for the deke. The decision worked, as his blistering wrist shot beat Koskinen to the glove side with exactly seven minutes to go in the period, tying the game 2-2.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 23, 2018
Tampa Bay wasted little time taking their first lead of the night, as J.T. Miller put the Bolts up 3-2 just 1:32 after Kucherov’s goal. Both McDonagh and Erik Cernak crashed the net, with Cernak controlling the puck and feeding it in front to Miller, who converted the pass for his seventh of the season.
Kucherov even made an impact at the other end of the ice when he broke up a centering pass to Chiasson that could’ve easily ended up in the back of Tampa Bay’s net. He was an absolute force through 40 minutes.
Although the Oilers made things interesting, the Lightning put this game out of reach in the third period.
At the 4:17 mark of the period, Brayden Point and Johnson found themselves on a 2-on-1, with Point collecting a pass from Johnson and firing the puck on net. Koskinen came up with the save, but Johnson pounced on the rebound for a 4-2 Tampa Bay lead on his 15th of the season. Edmonton got one back on the power play when McDavid found Draisaitl in the lower part of the right faceoff circle. Draisaitl found Vasilevskiy cheating to the near post and was able to roof a shot to the far side to cut the Bolts’ lead to 4-3.
Despite that goal, the Lightning didn’t flinch. Whenever this team has been up or down this season, they’ve been simply unflappable. That was evident with 4:57 remaining. Kucherov fed Victor Hedman with a perfect pass, but Koskinen slid over to make a huge save on the Lightning defenseman. However, the Bolts kept the pressure up, and some beautiful passing led to Stamkos wiring a shot past Koskinen for his 20th of the season and 12th in the month of December, tying his personal record for the most goals he’s scored in a month. With Tampa Bay up 5-3 after that goal, Johnson put the icing on the cake when he scored into an empty net with 1:25 to go to extend the lead to 6-3. Just like that, the Lightning completed a successful road trip and will reap the rewards of a few well-earned days off for the holidays.
The Bolts return to action on Thursday, December 27 when they host the Philadelphia Flyers. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
Our Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Recorded the first five-point game of his career with a goal and four assists. He was an absolute force at both ends of the ice.
2nd Star: Steven Stamkos – Scored a pair of goals, giving him 20 on the season and 12 in the month of December alone.
3rd Star: Connor McDavid – Assisted on all three of Edmonton’s goals and created some excellent chances for both himself and his linemates.
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