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Nikita Kucherov’s overtime goal leads Lightning to another win

The Tampa Bay Lightning continues to be contrarians.

Following a three-game losing streak that looked as if it was going to finish the team, the Bolts responded with a two-game winning streak on the road that might end up saving them.

The Lightning beat the Detroit Red Wings Friday night, 2-1 in overtime, to pull within one point of the Bruins and Islanders for the final wild-card spot. The Bruins and Islanders play each other today.

The Lightning now has at least a point in 11 of its last 12 road games (8-1-3).

Nikita Kucherov won the game for the Bolts with a goal in overtime. It was his 38th goal of the season, and his seventh in the last four games. Earlier, Ondrej Palat had scored to tie the game at 1.

It just feels good to win this game,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We had a tough little stretch there where we lost three in a row at home, and you sit here and say every game’s a must win, but let’s be honest, we don’t come out with four points in this, we’re in trouble. To come in on the back-to-back and be down in the third and to gut one out, pretty proud of the guys.

Losing would have been devastating for us, and that’s the way it is. When you’re not just trying to catch one team, you’re catching multiple teams, that’s why it’s hard to do. Really, you’ve just got to sit here and say the only destiny you can control is your own. That was the big conversation going into the third period. We had the one-goal lead against Arizona the other night and let it slip away, now we’re down a goal, what are we going to do here? The guys just talked about what needed to be done to win a hockey game, and they found a way.”

Cooper talked about the ascension of Kucherov, who has carried the Bolts as of late.

The biggest thing for me, what I think what’s really changed for him and it actually didn’t look like it tonight, but he’s been shooting the puck,” Cooper said. “And probably a month and a half ago, he’d show up on the sheet with one or zero shots, and I thought a big turning point was in Colorado, he didn’t score but I think he had eight or nine shots on goal that night. And the next night he had seven and scored, and it’s just taken off ever since. He got the big one tonight, but he passed up a couple really good looks where he can score. When Kuch is getting into that three to six shot a night range, pucks go in for guys like him. That’s what he’s doing, he’s creating space for himself, he’s fighting through stuff and, as I said, your best players got to be your best players and he’s a big reason why we’re back in this race.”

Tampa Bay is off until Monday when it plays Chicago.

  

Lightning embarrassed by Arizona with defeat in playoff drive

Quick question: If a team is going to be embarrassed by the second-worst team in the NHL, what does it say?

Other than, for a night, that the Tampa Bay Lightning was among the worst.

The Lightning blew every advantage Tuesday night. They were playing the second-worst team in the league, the Arizona Coyotes. They were at home. They held a lead in the third period. They were playing with playoffs in mind.

And still, they lost a 5-3 game to Arizona, an embarrassing game that might help keep them from the post-season.

The Bolts gave up five goals for the third straight game, and they lost again.

“You have to keep the puck out of your net if you’re going to win,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “In our last two games, we’ve scored three. In the past, when we’ve made a commitment to play defense, we’ve won those games. If you’re not going to defend, you’re not going to win.”

Cooper offered up an interesting statistic. Arizona blocked 25 shots on Tuesday night; the Bolts blocked only six.

Still, the Bolts had a chance to win. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov scored to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead. Still, Arizona came back to win.

The Lightning, impossibly, is still only four points out of a playoff spot. But as Cooper said, “We’re running out of real estate.”

Tampa Bay now goes on the road, facing Boston and Detroit.

Lightning’s Steven Stamkos still watching as his knee heals

The calvary might not be in a hurry to rescue the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Although injured center Steven Stamkos took part in a full practice Friday, he still has no timetable for his return. He might not make it back before the end of the regular season, which has 12 games to go. The Lightning continues to exist just beyond the final wild-card berth,

“When it’s 100 percent, I’ll be back,” Stamkos said Friday to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s a question I can’t answer. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in this rehab process, where it feels like it’s never going to get better. Then you have a week where it goes through the roof in regards to how you’re feeling.

“I’ll be playing when it feels ready. And I can’t say it feels ready right now. But it was a start.”

Stamkos said the Lightning’s recent stretch — going 12-3-3 to get back into the playoff conversation — has given him a lift in his rehab.

“This has been the toughest by far,” Stamkos said. “I think mentally, you know what to expect. Physically, this one was the toughest with the type of injury it was. It was a grind. There were a lot of days, especially when it happened. Hopefully, that’s it, the string of bad luck is over.”

Stamkos was off to a strong start when he was injured.

“There’s a lot of what could have been,’ Stamkos said. “But that’s life. Things like that happen. You get tested in a lot of different ways. It’s tough to watch the guys struggle. I see the season unfold the way it has. It’s encouraging the way things have gone lately. It has helped me in the process as well.”

Stamkos said he’ll be back when he is ready.

“When there’s no restrictions, where you feel like you did before surgery,” Stamkos said. “Obviously, even when I came back from the broken leg, there was the curve that goes with coming back, the inflammation, the little bit of pain after. There shouldn’t be any uncomfortable moments on the ice. Obviously, some of that is mental too. I’ve been through this before, I have a good understanding of what my body needs to feel like in order to be back on the ice.”

Tampa Bay plays Washington Saturday.

Injuries mar big victory by Tampa Bay Lightning over Stars

The Tampa Bay Lightning is learning one of the oldest lessons in hockey.

Every time it gets a little bit of a gain, it finds itself in a little more pain.

The Bolts took a big victory Thursday night, beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at home. The Wild, 32-17-6, has been the best team in the Western Conference, while the Bolts are still struggling to make the playoffs.

As big as the win was, however, it came with a sting. The Bolts lost Tyler Johnson, Vlad Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette — all centers — to injuries to their left legs. Coach Jon Cooper had no further information on the injuries.

“It doesn’t sound encouraging for any of them,” Cooper said. “If we got one of them back for Saturday, it would be a blessing.”

Nikita Kucherov scored two goals for the Lightning, one on a power play (the first in 12 games for the Stars). Victor Hedman had a goal and an assist. Andrej Sustr also scored a goal for Tampa Bay.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won for the Bolts, continuing his play since the trading deadline.

“He’s definitely holding down the fort,” said Anton Stralman. Vasilevskiy stopped 32 of 33 shots.

“You’ve got to put that one up there (with the Lightning’s best wins),” Cooper said. “Especially that last 12 minutes when were limited in our players. We were responsible, gritty, gutty, getting in shot lanes.”

The Lightning is home Saturday night against Florida.

Nikita Kucherov’s fancy move gets shootout victory for Lightning

Nikita Kucherov brought the playground to Buffalo Saturday night.

In a shootout against the Sabres, Kucherov, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, swept toward the goal. He shot, then whipped his stick over the puck as it slid past Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

“He brought the schoolyard to the big stage,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “You better score on that, and he did.”

Tyler Johnson scored in regulation, and Brayden Point and Kucherov scored in the shootout for a 2-1 win.

Ryan O’Reilly scored in regulation for Buffalo.

“It definitely was on purpose,” Tyler Johnson said. “He does it in practice all the time. I think a lot of people mess around doing that but you never think in a NHL game. But that’s Kuch. That’s going to be a goal that’s on YouTube forever, so I can’t wait to see it.”

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won his third straight game for the Bolts, stopping 31 of 32 shots in regulation and two more in overtime.

The Bolts are now within three points of the Islanders for the final wild-card slot.

Tampa Bay is home on Monday night against the Rangers.

Nikita Kucherov scores hat trick as Lightning beat Ottawa

Did you see that?

Want to see it again?

How about one more time?

The Tampa Bay Lightning played one of most inspired games of the season Monday night, blasting the second-place (Atlantic Division) Ottawa Senators 5-1. Nikita Kucherov blistered three straight shots in the second period into the net to lead the way.

It was the second Hat Trick of his career, with all three goals coming in a row in the second period. His scores were all similar – one timers from the circle to the goaltender’s left. All three snapped into the net in span of 17 minutes and nine seconds.

“Let’s go back a couple games,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He had nine shots on goal, didn’t score. He had that mentality of, ‘I want to score.’ It wasn’t pass first, pass first, pass first. Then you get to the game after that, I think he had seven shots and he scored in the game. When the Calgary game came, he had zero shots after two periods. He ended up getting a couple shots at the end, but when he’s got that shooter’s mentality with the gift he has to put the puck in the back of the net, this is what happens.

“Now what’d he have: seven tonight? This will happen for him. Guys like Kuch, they’re special players. They have high hockey IQ’s. They want to make plays and sometimes it hurts them by making too many plays. When he’s got that shooter’s mentality, these are the type of things that happen.”

It was the kind of game that signals that maybe, just maybe, the Bolts are still in it despite the trades of goaltender Brian Bishop and forward Brian Boyle.

For instance, there was Kucherov’s magic. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won his first game since Jan. 24, and collected only his third since Dec. 31, a span of 14 games. Vasilevskiy said he refused to think about Bishop’s trade, thinking only about stopping pucks instead. It worked for him.

Forward Jonathan Drouin had three assists on the night, and Brayden Point and Braydon Coburn scored goals.

The Bolts are home Wednesday night against Carolina.

Lightning’s Steve Yzerman thinks team can still make the playoffs

Even without the best goaltender in its history, general manager Steve Yzerman thinks the Tampa Bay Lightning can make the playoffs.

On the morning after trading Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, Yzerman said the post-season remains a goal.

“We’re still trying to make the playoffs,” Yzerman said. “This tandem (goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Peter Bukaj) gives us a chance to win every night.”

Yzerman said his choice was this trade or to sit tight until the end of the season. He said one reason he made it now was to afford to pay off performance clauses of the young players.

That puts the team’s goaltending in the hands of Vasilevskiy, who Yzerman thinks will be a good one.

“To me, it’s more than a leap of faith,” Yzerman said. “I believe time will tell. I think he has all the tools to be an excellent starting goaltender for a long time. He’s going to be a very good starter. It’s the hardest position to play. There are ups and downs for every player. I think he has the desire and the fortitude to ride those downs out.”

At any rate, the immediate future belongs to Vasilevskiy, who is 11-13-5. The Bolts have won only one of his last eight starts (three overtimes).

Yzerman said the expectations are still high.

“Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” he said, “whether that’s this year, next year or two years from now.”

Tampa Bay Lightning trades goaltender Ben Bishop to Kings

The Tampa Bay Lightning traded away the best goaltender in their history Sunday night.

Now, the question is whether the team can make the playoffs without him.

The Bolts swapped Ben Bishop, who has won 128 regular season games over past three-plus seasons, to the Los Angeles Kings for goaltender Peter Budaj, defensive prospect Erik Cernak and two draft picks. It is a trade that will free up salary cap space for the Bolts, but it hurts them in this year’s playoff race. Bishop had won five straight games.

The trade had been talked about since the Lightning re-signed young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to a new contract. Bishop was to be an unrestricted free agent.

Budaj actually had won as many games this season (27) as Bishop and Vasilevskiy combined. However, he is 34, and no one knows how long he’ll be able to help.

Cernak, a former No. 2 draft pick, has not left the minors for the Kings.

Budaj, 6 feet 1 and 196 pounds, played in 53 games with the Kings this season, taking over the No. 1 job after Jonathan Quick suffered a groin injury in the season opener. Quick returned Saturday night for his first game since the opener. Budaj was 27-20-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage with seven shutouts. Budaj, 34, has appeared in 350 NHL games with Los Angeles, the Canadiens and the Avalanche, with a 152-127-39 record with 18 shutouts.

Cernak, 6-3 and 221 pounds, has played in 41 games with the junior Ontario League’s Erie Otters this season, with three goals and 17 points, and is plus-27. Cernak, 19, has played in 82 career OHL games with Erie, recording seven goals and 32 points, and is plus-34 rating.

Bishop had not played well much of this season, perhaps because of his contract status, because the upcoming salary cap and because Vasilevskiy had taken on more of a share of the net. However, his recent success brought his record to 16-12-3.

Triplets reunited as Tampa Bay Lightning continues playing well

Once again, they were magic.

Once again, they were so electric you could almost see sparks on the ice. Nikita Kucherov. Ondrej Palat. Tyler Johnson.

The Triplets.

Stop them if you can.

You remember the Lightning’s Triplets, don’t you? In 2014-15, they were the most amazing line in the National Hockey League. They led the NHL in scoring that year, and given their tender ages, it seemed they would be a success for years to come.

Ah, but injuries happened, and the line was split up, and they appeared as a trio only every now and then.

Have you looked lately? The Tampa Bay Lightning line is clicking again, a one-two-three punch that can still take over games. They were solid in Colorado, getting off 13 shots. Then, in a keeper of a win against Edmonton, they were good again in a 4-1 victory.

Palat scored two goals. Kucherov scored one and had three assists. Johnson had two assists. And the Lightning pointed for the seventh straight game. At what may be their last chance, the Bolts are finally playing well again.

“It’s not that you put them together and all of the sudden the magic starts,” said coach Jon Cooper. “It’s playing the right way before that happens. Everyone had been defending really well. All of the sudden, you have the puck more, you have the puck in the right places more.”

Tuesday night’s game was an answer as to why the team had been spinning its wheels. The Bolts need more Triplets.

“It’s fun,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. “I’ve got the best seat in the house to watch it. They have that something extra and tonight they really brought it.”

Said Johnson: “It’s been great. We haven’t had much opportunity to play together the last couple of years. Maybe a period or two here or there. There haven’t been too many times (we played together) the entire game. Last game, we played well. We had a lot of chances to score, but it just didn’t go in for us. Now they’ve started to go in and we even had more opportunities.”

So will the Triplets stay together?

“It’s getting results, so I hope so,” Johnson said. “I like playing with those guys. They’re fun to play with. They make the game a lot better.”

Palat scored the first two goals for Tampa Bay. But Edmonton came back on goal by Iiro Pakarinen, then had another goal disallowed on an off-sides. It was a rare challenge won by Tampa Bay.

Kucherov added a third goal, and Vlad Namestikov was awarded a goal when he was hooked on an empty netter with one second to play.

Tampa Bay is home Thursday night against Calgary.

This time, Lightning rallies after blowing two-goal lead and wins in OT

Forget that the opponent was in last-place. Forget that the Tampa Bay Lightning blew a two-goal lead for the second straight night. Forget that it took until overtime to complete the task.

The Lightning won.

What else matters?

The Lightning, getting points in its sixth straight game, is starting to show signs of life in the Eastern Conference Wild-card race. Sunday night, Tampa Bay launched 40 shots at Colorado, and came away with a 3-2 overtime victory.

The winning goal was scored when Jonathan Drouin stole the puck, then scored with at 2:27 of the overtime period.

“That’s what he does,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s a gifted, gifted player. You get him that close to the net with the puck and a little bit of time and space and he can do some magical things.”

For the second straight night, the Lightning seemed to be in good shape after Braydon Point and Vladislav Namestikov scored. But the Avs came back to force overtime when Matt Duchene scored the tying goal with 41.9 seconds to play on a shot that deflected off two players.

“Give Colorado credit for not quitting down 2-0 going into the third,” Cooper said, “but we needed to win one of those. Regardless of how this game’s going to turn out or how we’re going to get to 3-2, we needed it.”

The Lightning could have iced the game when Tyler Johnson scored in the third period, but the goal was disallowed. It spoiled a good night for the Triplets.

“Yeah, they were our best line tonight.” Cooper said. “They were a factor every time they hit the ice. Like I said, you feel for those guys. They get that one goal called back as well as they had played. There was a little contact. The ref saw it one way. We see it the other. That’s how it goes.”

Tampa Bay now returns home for four straight games, including Tuesday against Edmonton.

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