It was a night of milestones and almost-milestones for the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov grabbed his 41st goal and 87th assist, giving him 128 to close out the year. 128 points gives Kucherov the title for the most points in a season by a Russian NHLer, and is the same number of points the Lightning earned in the regular season. That’s pretty special.
It was also a game of almost-milestones for several Lightning players as well. Anthony Cirelli finished the regular season with 19 goals. Cruel. Tyler Johnson with 29 goals. Ouch. Braydon Coburn also finished the year with 4 goals and 19 assists. Heart breaking. Steven Stamkos ended the season with 98 points. Argh. But hopefully the post-season’s Cup run will be more than enough to forget these near misses.
The first half of the period was the Mathieu Joseph show. He skated at a level above his teammates and powered through the neutral zone with his usual relentless determination. He created a few chances off the cycle, but his biggest was right off a faceoff in the offensive zone. Ondrej Palat got the puck on the right wing with a clear chance to shoot. Instead, he saw Joseph get away from his check and gave him a pass right down the slot. Joseph’s redirection would have gone right down the middle of the net until Tuukka Rask got his toe on the puck and deflected it away. Joseph led the Bolts in shot attempts in the first period.
The Bruins opened the scoring late in the first period after Palat and Joseph got lost tracking back in the neutral zone and allowed a 2-on-1 with only Braydon Coburn back. The two wingers were the deepest in the zone, and while the other three skaters on the ice had their man, they allowed Charlie McAvoy and David Krejci to get ahead of them for the break. Coburn did a great job of trying to break up the play, but McAvoy’s momentum pushed the puck into the crease and Krejci got a piece of the puck to shovel it up over the shoulder of Eddie Pasquale and under the bar.
The Bruins got a second goal right at the end of the first period after they took advantage of the Bolts fourth line not being able to win battles along the boards and get the puck out of their own zone. The penultimate mistake was when Danick Martel was a few feet away from the blueline at the end of the shift and wasn’t able to get the puck across for a change. Instead, the play eventually rotated to Danton Heinen at the top of the circle where he sniped a pretty lethal shot to the top corner, past a screened Pasquale.
The Bolts played a pretty even first half of the period, but by the 20-minute mark, they were behind 13-21 in 5v5 shot attempts, 7-11 in shots, and 6-14 in scoring chances. Hopefully when this team is actually trying, that doesn’t happen. Those short stretches could be the difference in a playoff series.
The Bolts made up for their poor end of the first period with a quick start in the second. Under five minutes into the second, the Lightning cycled in the offensive zone and J.T. Miller was able to draw three Bruins towards him long enough to create a lane to the net for young Erik Cernak. Cernak took the pass right down the royal road and ripped a snapper past Rask for the Bolts’ first goal of the game. This goal came at the very tail end of a Joakim Nordstrom slashing penalty.
Midway through the period, Coburn took a high-sticking penalty at the side of the net and put the Bolts down a man. Stamkos helped win the initial faceoff and burst down the length of the ice like a faster than usual otter before deking and sliding the puck through Rask’s five-hole. The goal was Stammer’s 45th of the season, a feat the star center has only completed three other times in his career. This was his first 45+ goal season since he scored 60 in 2011-12 at the ripe young age of 22-years-old.
Anthony Cirelli gave the Lightning their first lead of the game 16 minutes into the second period when a broken pass from Coburn bounced off Miller and right to Cirelli to the left of the slot. Cirelli loosed a quick shot from distance and beat Rask handily. The goal gives Cirelli 19 goals and 19 assists in his first full season with the blue and white. Not bad for a 21-year-old third-line center who is one of the best penalty killers in the league.
It was a better period for the Lightning. They weren’t able to out-shoot the Bruins at 5v5, but they scored three goals to their none, which is good too. At 5v5, the Bolts were behind 10-11 in shot attempts, ahead 7-5 in shots, and behind 5-7 in scoring chances. Call it even.
Nikita Kucherov kicked off the third period in style when he took a Ryan McDonagh takeaway in the neutral zone, powered through McAvoy and Zdeno Chara before deftly sliding the puck on the bias past Rask. The goal was a milestone one for Kucherov, who is now tied with Alexander Mogilny for the most points in a season by a Russian.
Nikita Kucherov of the @TBLightning recorded his 127th point of 2018-19 to match the NHL record for most in a season by a Russian player, a mark set by Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93. #NHLStats #TBLvsBOS pic.twitter.com/wuQa5gEXSE— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 6, 2019
Matt Grzelcyk brought the Bruins to within one with less than six minutes left in the game after the Bolts spent the majority of the period trying to ride out the game on the lead they had created in the middle 20 minutes. There wasn’t much defensive effort from the Lightning, who only had three players in the zone during the rush chance against. I guess Kucherov’s linemates were changing? Either way, it didn’t make much of a difference in the end because 13 seconds later, the Bolts got it right back.
Coburn got his third point of the night with a dump-in from the offensive blueline that snuck through Rask, restoring the Tampa’s two-goal lead. The puck was fluttering after deflecting off a stick so it was a very lucky goal for the big defenseman who now has four to his name to close out the regular season.
Stamkos had a try at the empty-netter, but it was Tyler Johnson who got to seal the deal in the end with his 29th of the season. With a secondary assist on the empty-net goal, Kuch finished the season with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), and becoming the greatest Russian point producer in a single season in NHL history. Not bad.
Now on to the playoffs.
GO BOLTS GO!