Kucherov strikes again, Lightning beat Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning snapped their five-game BB&T Center losing streak, but it took a tremendous offensive effort.
NHL goals leader Nikita Kucherov scored for the 13th time in 13 games and NHL assists leader Steven Stamkos had three points, including two goals, as the Lightning won a wild one, defeating the host Florida Panthers 8-5 on Monday night.
Tampa Bay (10-2-1), which is tied with the St. Louis Blues for the best record in the NHL, won despite a leaky defense.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (10-1-0) tied a franchise record — set by John Grahame in 2005 — with his ninth straight win. Vasilevskiy, who entered the game with a 2.20 goals-against average, made just 18 saves.
“He didn’t have his best stuff tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But more often than not, he’s our best player. It was important for us to pick ‘Vasy’ up.”
The Lightning did just that as their first six goals came from six different players, showing that Tampa Bay has secondary scoring that goes far beyond Kucherov and Stamkos.
“We have a lot of depth up front,” Stamkos said of the offense. “That’s one of our strong suits. If we continue to get scoring up and down the lineup, that’s huge in today’s game.”
Case in point — pun intended — was Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, who continued to torment the Panthers. In three games against Florida this season, he has seven points, including one goal and one assist on Monday.
Special teams proved crucial as Tampa Bay went 2 of 5 on its power play and killed all three of its penalties.
Florida (4-6-1) fell to 1-1-1 on its current homestand. Panthers goalie James Reimer was pulled in the second period after making 14 saves but allowing five goals. He was replaced by veteran Antti Niemi, who allowed two goals and made 16 saves in his Panthers debut.
The Panthers were led by their top line of Aleksander Barkov (one goal, career-high three assists), Jonathan Huberdeau (one goal, two assists) and Evgenii Dadonov (one goal, two assists and a career-high three points).
But that line didn’t have nearly enough help.
“You can’t win against Tampa Bay if you only have one line going and a couple of guys on the back end,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “That’s a lesson learned — hopefully.”
Tampa Bay, which never trailed, led 3-2 after the first period.
Huberdeau tied the score 3-3 with 5:32 expired in the second period. Barkov and Dadonov both had assists, but it was Huberdeau, in close quarters, who managed to lift the puck over Vasilevskiy’s stick.
Less than two minutes later, Tampa Bay took the lead for good on a goal set up by Point’s great pass to Ondrej Palat, who tapped the puck into the open left side of the net.
Tampa Bay nearly scored again on a Kucherov breakaway. Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle hauled him down from behind, but the Lightning scored on the resulting power play.
Florida was 20 seconds away from killing the penalty when Mikhail Sergachev put the puck on net and Yanni Gourde deflected it past Reimer.
That goal, with 9:38 left in the second period, chased Reimer, and Florida never again got closer than a two-goal deficit.
Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said his team lacked “passion” for much of the night.
“We found it in the third, but it was too late,” he said. “We have to play a lot harder and make it impossible for those guys to get a sniff.”
NOTES: This was the third matchup between these teams in the past 25 days, but they meet just once more the rest of the regular season. In the first three games, the teams have combined for 30 goals. ... Florida benched D Alex Petrovic and put D MacKenzie Weegar into the lineup. Panthers coach Bob Boughner said there are things Petrovic needs to clean up, noting that Florida has been “exposed a bit from behind the net.” ... Lightning RW J.T. Brown participated in his first ride-along with Tampa police this past weekend. ... Florida’s homestand ends this week with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and the New York Rangers on Saturday. ... The Lightning play host to the Rangers on Thursday.