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Kucherov makes franchise history, leads Lightning in 2-1 shootout victory over Sabres

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30 goals, 70 assists, 100 points = franchise history happening in front of your eyes

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres came to town this evening looking to claw their way back into the wildcard race. They managed a point, but failed to secure a victory as Nikita Kucherov scored the Lightning’s only goal and the winning shootout goal to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-1 win. Kucherov recorded his 30th goal and 100th point on the season, and in doing so became the only player in Lightning history to record multiple 100 point seasons. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carter Hutton put on a goaltending duel as they both stopped 29 and 39 shots respectively.

1st Period

The majority of the first period was a back and forth affair that displayed the offensive talent of both teams. Brayden Point had a chance in-close that was thwarted by Hutton, but this was quickly followed up by a turnover by Buffalo that led to a one-timer from Point that Hutton swallowed once again. From here it was a battle of the top lines as the Eichel line for Buffalo and the Point line for Tampa swapped pressure throughout the period. The Stamkos line had some looks as well, but for the most part the Point line carried the day.

A double minor hi-sticking penalty on J.T. Miller at 11:26 gave Buffalo their first opportunity to take advantage, but the Lightning penalty kill had other things in mind. Two great shorthanded chances, one by Erik Cernak the other by Alex Killorn saw the Sabres scrambling for large portions of their power-play. Buffalo did manage to get set up in the offensive zone, but were unable to get anything dangeorus on Vasilevskiy as the Lightning killed it off.

The remainder of the first saw the back and forth battle continue as Hutton and Vasilevskiy walled off any shot that made it towards them; until one managed to deflect off a defenseman and into the net.

Poor Ryan McDonagh’s knee. It manages to redirect Rasmus Dahlin’s shot just enough to get by Vasilevskiy and with 1:47 left in the opening period the Sabres took the lead.

Possession wise, this was even. Both teams at 50% CF% with Tampa Bay getting the slight edge in chances.

2nd Period

Tampa Bay came out aggressive to start the second and it took Buffalo a few minutes to get their bearings. The Lightning did themselves little favors with their over-passing in the slot, but they still managed to maintain pressure on the Sabres. Once Buffalo pushed back they did so with force. The Eichel line pinned the Lightning in the defensive zone and had Tampa Bay’s defense scrambling at times. Vasilevskiy held the fort down during these moments, but if the Lightning defense didn’t straighten out soon they’d be in trouble.

It took a few minutes, and some turnovers in the neutral and offensive zone, but Tampa Bay straightened out their defensive zone play and managed to generate two good chances for J.T. Miller and Anthony Cirelli. As the midway point approached, it was Buffalo who began dictating the game until a turnover led to something special.

Nikita Kucherov—30 goals, 70 assists, 100 points in 62 games. The only player in Lightning franchise history to score 100 points in multiple seasons (let alone consecutive). Just to put into perspective what Kucherov has done this season.

In 1997, I was eight years old. Kucherov is in rarefied company. If he continues this pace, he deserves the Hart trophy for this season—Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks be damned.

A power-play came for the Lightning shortly after Kucherov’s goal and it felt like the Lightning would extend their lead. However, Carter Hutton had other plans. Hutton was fantastic for the Sabres this evening. The sole reason why the Lightning didn’t score three or more goals. Buffalo battled, but the possession battle started to tilt in the Lightning’s favor as the period progressed (Tampa Bay controlled 53% in the second period). The posts helped him out on a Kucherov one-timer and a Brayden Point shot, but you make your own luck in the NHL and Hutton sure did that this evening.

3rd Period

This period was all Tampa Bay. 73% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and 71% of the scoring chances. Carter Hutton was, again, fantastic for Buffalo. Making save after save to thwart the Lightning pressure. The Lightning did receive a power-play near the midway point when Zach Bogosian went off for delay of game, but the ensuing man advantage was ineffective. Buffalo then received a power-play when Brayden Point and Jeff Skinner went at it at 13:43.

No worries though. Point handled Skinner.

When asked what he liked about Point’s performance this evening, Cooper replied with one simple word, “Everything.”

The remainder of the period saw Tampa Bay dictate play, but fail to capitalize on their chances. Buffalo didn’t generate much, but they did manage some spurts of offense during the period.

Overtime

Kucherov had a chance in close. Hedman had two chances. Point had a chance. All of them failed to connect. Matching roughing penalties were given to Rasmus Ristolainen and Kucherov after Ristolainen cross checked Kucherov high. Kucherov fell to the ice, but quickly got back up and went directly at the towering defensemen. A scrum ensued that eventually saw both players be dragged to the penalty boxes.

Buffalo, interestingly, didn’t seem too intent on scoring during the overtime period. They had zone time for a good chunk of the frame, but only registered one shot. If their idea was to win it in a shootout, it backfired.

Shootout

Steven Stamkos - Goal

Jack Eichel - Save

Brayden Point - Post

Casey Middlestadt - Save

Nikita Kucherov - Goal and game

The Good

Kucherov Makes History

Like I mentioned before; first Lightning player to ever score 100 points in multiple seasons (and consecutive seasons), first player to score 100 points this fast since Mario Lemieux in 1997, I was eight years old when Lemieux did that. Cherish what Kucherov is doing, folks. He is a special player and we are unbelievably lucky to have him. Keep chanting his name for the Hart Trophy.

The Bad

Powerless Power-Play

The power-play was rather harmless this evening. They struggled to enter the offensive zone, and even when they did establishing control was a chore this evening. An off night for the league’s top unit, but those are going to happen. The rest of the team did fine.

The Whatever

The calls for Patrick Kane to win the Hart trophy are only going to get louder if the Blackhawks claw their way into a playoff spot. As impressive as Chicago’s recent push has been there’s been one huge thing that the national pundits forget—the West is a mess.

Here are the teams around Chicago for the wildcard and their last 10 games.

Dallas 5-4-1

Minnesota 2-5-3

Colorado 3-4-3

Chicago 8-2-0

Arizona 4-5-1

Vancouver 3-6-1

Yea, real impressive that every team around them has played terribly and they managed to get hot at an opportune time.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continues to pace the league while having the Boston Bruins on a 9-0-1 stretch and the Toronto Maple Leafs on a 6-3-1 stretch. Kane is having a great season, of that there is little doubt, but what Kucherov is doing is something we haven’t seen in two decades.