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Kucherov ties a franchise milestone as Lightning power past Jets 5-2, secure 51st win

The Lightning’s depth shined bright this evening, but Nikita Kucherov tying Vincent Lecavalier was the highlight of the night.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-2019 season continues to be a special one for Tampa Bay. By defeating the Central division leading Winnipeg Jets, 5-2, the Lightning secured their 51st win of the season in their 67th game. The Lightning’s depth stood out this evening with Adam Erne, Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette, and Anthony Cirelli all appearing on the score sheet (Yanni Gourde, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point also scored this evening). Though, the shining star sits with Nikita Kucherov, who tied Vincent Lecavalier’s single season points record with a two point effort this evening. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 saves while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 33.

1st Period

An early start has been one of Tampa Bay’s strong suits this season, and tonight was no exception. After a strong opening shift from Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and J.T. Miller, it only took the Lightning 1:34 to establish the pace and show Winnipeg that this showdown wouldn’t be similar to their previous meeting. Yanni Gourde made things happen and is now only two goals away from consecutive 20-goal seasons.

Yanni Gourde manages to catch Jacob Trouba and Nathan Beaulieu out of position as Ondrej Palat feeds a great pass down the middle of the ice. Gourde protected the puck from Trouba before roofing it past Hellebuyck to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

Tampa Bay continued to push Winnipeg around in the early minutes. Their forecheck and physicality pinned the Jets in the offensive zone numerous times which led to a few more scoring chances. Unfortunately, a slashing penalty to Cedric Paquette at 6:05 negated much of Tampa Bay’s momentum.

After a shorthanded chance setup by Anthony Cirelli for Yanni Gourde failed to connect, the Jets came right back down the ice to tie the game at one at 6:31.

Jon Cooper mentioned that Ryan McDonagh lost an edge which enabled Blake Wheeler to gain that much space to score. I’ve watched the replay several times and can’t see where he lost his edge (must’ve happened off screen). If McDonagh doesn’t lose an edge on this play then this goal probably doesn’t occur, but without seeing it (I was focusing on Cernak during the play) I can’t fully support that claim.

The remainder of the first was largely Tampa Bay. Aside from the shot discrepancy after the opening 20 minutes (14-5), possession was emphatically in the Lightning’s favor (71%-29%) as were the high danger scoring chances (8-1). Winnipeg had small surges of pressure, but they were far and few between. A late power-play for the Lightning provided an opportunity to regain the lead, but they struggled to establish any kind of control and ended up only generating a single shot.

The physicality of both teams was on display throughout the period, but the first real scrum started at the end of the period. Paquette was in the middle of it, and was penalized with Blake Wheeler for roughing. I’m unsure what Paquette did in this instance, all I saw was a crosscheck to his lower back before the mass of bodies ensued, but this was just the first of some weak calls by the officials this evening.

2nd Period

Vasilevskiy had to stop an early 2-on-1 during 4-on-4 play, but aside from that it was mostly even during this stretch of play. Once 5v5 play returned, we started to see the real Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg began to control play far more effectively than in the first and started to apply pressure on Vasilevskiy. A poor clearing attempt provided a great chance for the Jets at 6:46, but Vasilevskiy was there to stop it.

Tampa Bay managed to situate themselves a few moments after this stop and began to push play back into the Winnipeg zone. A few shifts of back and forth play eventually led to the fourth line stepping up and providing some timely scoring at 8:48.

Great play from McDonagh, smart heads up read by Cirelli to feed the puck to Joseph, and a great feed from Joseph to Erne to seal the deal on the 2-on-1. Tampa wouldn’t look back after this goal.

Winnipeg made a spirited push after the Erne goal, but both Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defense stood tall. Once Tampa Bay pushed play back into the Winnipeg zone, their forecheck and physicality put the Jets in a bind. They started to clutch and grab more in the corners to slow down Tampa Bay and it ended up biting them at at 14:03 when Andrew Copp was called for holding.

This time, Tampa Bay established control early during the man advantage and went to work. Unfortunately, a one-timer from Kucherov hit Hellebuyck in the head and temporarily knocked the netminder out of the game.

With Hellebuyck off to the locker room to have some stitches placed on him, Laurent Brossoit was brought in to try and stop the top power-play in the league—it didn’t go well.

That’s number 382 for the Captain. He’s one goal away from tying Vincent Lecavalier’s all-time franchise goals record of 383. This was also Stamkos’ first goal in his last six games (he last scored against Columbus on February 8th). We will probably see this record be tied by the weekend. The best thing about this goal is how quickly Tampa Bay moved the puck around the offensive zone—this is when they’re at their best. Winning puck battles and passing the puck before the defense can react. This was also Kucherov’s 107th point on the season, which put him one point behind Lecavalier’s single season record of 108. Also, Victor Hedman’s assist here gave him sole possession of the most power-play points in franchise history with 127 (he passed Dan Boyle’s 126). Hedman now owns every major defensive accolade in franchise history.

You have to feel for Brossoit a bit since he came in cold and had to deal with that kind of offense immediately, but that’s the NHL for you sometimes. Hellebuyck did return a few minutes later after a stoppage in play.

The remainder of the period was mostly back and forth with the Jets gaining an edge in possession 53% to 47%. However, high danger chances were firmly in Tampa Bay’s favor 4-0.

3rd Period

Tampa Bay continued to dictate play early and were rewarded with a power-play at 1:10 after Trouba tossed the puck over the glass (delay of game). The Lightning generated little on this man advantage, but it didn’t matter when the fourth line came through again in the production department with Paquette’s 10th of the season.

Banging bodies, forcing the puck free, out-hustling the opposition, and sniping one past the goaltender—all in a matter of seconds. This goal is all Erne and Joseph, Paquette merely finishes the job. They don’t always get on the scoreboard, and their effort isn’t always lauded, but the fourth line for the Lightning was one of the more effective lines on the ice this evening at 5v5 and Winnipeg had little answer for it.

After a few more minutes of back and forth play, Dmitri Kulikov was penalized for slashing Paquette at 9:07. Admittedly, the call was weak, Paquette laid a clean hit on Kulikov and the Jets defender felt like a swing to the leg was suitable retaliation. Paquette appeared to have barely noticed the slash, but the official immediately called it. We’ve seen plays like this go uncalled quite often (including some egregious trips), so, the fact it did get called was rather surprising.

The Lightning waste little time making Winnipeg pay for it.

Besides the fact that Kucherov tied Lecavalier’s record of 108 points in a single season, marvel at how quickly Tampa Bay moved the puck here. Focus on Hellebuyck after Kucherov’s one-timer. He’s never able to fully reset himself long enough to get comfortable before the puck is moving. He’s looking over or around J.T. Miller often, and immediately goes down low once the puck reaches Kucherov. By the time Point fires the puck Hellebuyck is in full scramble mode just to get the center part of his body toward the middle of the net. Point fires it high on the short side and Hellebuyck is helpless to do anything.

Score effects kind of took over for the remainder of the period with the Jets controlling play, yet trailing by four goals. They did manage to get one back on the power-play (Joseph for interference) with one of the flukiest bounces I’ve ever seen.

This is one of those goals that you just have to laugh at. Vasilevskiy makes the logical play by going behind the net to stop the dump in—we’ve seen this happen hundreds of times. The puck hits the glass at just the right angle to redirect itself directly into the net. You can tell everyone is confused by what just happened and even the Jets are like “well ok, I guess we’ll take that one”.

One last scrum at the 15:27 mark showcased the inconsistency of the officiating where Ben Chariot and Paquette were given matching minors (Chariot for roughing and Paquette for slashing Hellebuyck). I had initially thought Kulikov was called for roughing since he was the one punching Paquette in the face during the scrum, but apparently it was Chariot. I don’t remember Paquette slashing Hellebuyck during this sequence, but I had eye-rolled the situation once the scrum started.

What annoyed me was the idiotic extra minor that Paquette took. That was the second dumb penalty he took this evening. I have no issues with a player airing their grievances with poor officiating (which it was this evening), but don’t give the official a reason to throw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on you. For crying out loud you’re up 5-2 with five minutes left. Winnipeg’s only area where they were dangerous this evening was the power-play—don’t gift them one! As horrid as the initial call on Paquette was (the slashing call was as ghost-like as they come, Paquette literally did nothing except push his stick on the covered puck), this just showcased the most frustrating thing about Paquette (who, outside of his dumb slashing penalty in the first, was great this evening). Thankfully, the penalty was killed off, but as always is the case with Paquette, you take his good with his bad. We’re just lucky his good outweighs his bad more often than not.

The Good

Nikita Hartcherov

I feel like a broken record, but what Nikita Kucherov has done this season is ridiculous. He tied Vincent Lecavalier’s single season points record in 67 games—he still has 15 to play and is on pace for 132. If Kucherov hits 132, that would be the most since Joe Thornton scored 125 during the 2005-2006 season. It would also be the highest of the salary cap era, and the highest overall since Jaromir Jagr scored 127 in 1998-1999. The last time a play scored more than 130 points was in 1995-1996 when Mario Lemiuex put up 161 and Jagr put up 149. He now has a 14 point lead on the second leading scorer, Patrick Kane (how’s that playoff push going), and I don’t see how anyone can reasonably talk themselves into giving the Hart trophy to anyone else. Kucherov has been that much better than everyone else this year.

The Bad

Paquette Rant

Just take my rant about Paquette and add it here.

When Paquette is on his game he is a relentless pest who goads opposing teams into bad penalties and chips in offensively once in a while. He did both of that tonight, but his aforementioned slashing penalty in the first and unsportsmanlike in the third were just aggravating (the matching penalties he received were bad calls by a poor officiating crew—that does not absolve him from the other two penalties). There’s only one real negative with Paquette and it’s his penchant for taking bad penalties at bad times (which is something the Lightning as a whole also have a problem with). Everything else about him is great for a fourth liner center; he’s good on the draw, he’s fantastic on the forecheck, defensively solid, has a sneaky good shot, and sets the physical tone for the team. But man would it be great if he didn’t do stupid stuff on the ice at times.

The Whatever

Burns is spot on with this. I’m all for opposing fans wearing their team’s jersey into Amalie, when that team is in the building. When they’re not, that person just looks bizarre. Like they’re craving attention because they think they’re special.