TAMPA, Fla. – Just when it seemed the game might be slipping away, Nikita Kucherov asserted himself for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Two goals and an assist later Saturday, the resilient, defending Stanley Cup champions had a 6-4 victory and a 3-1 lead in their second-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“To be honest, he might have taken the game over," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Clearly we lost control a little bit in the second period, and he’d been hit in a tough manner by one of their guys, and he just channeled his energy the right way.
“It was a 5-on-5 shift and he was just a beast out there. Then we had our power-play opportunities, and he was just making plays all over the place. He might have been the best player on the ice tonight. When Kuch is doing some of the stuff he did, he’s borderline unstoppable.”
Kucherov and Steven Stamkos each had a pair of goals and an assist, and the Lightning improved to 10-0 in games following a playoff loss over the past two postseasons. Game 5 is Tuesday night at Carolina.
Each team scored four goals in the second, with the Lightning turning a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Stamkos and Kucherov scored on the power play and Tyler Johnson also beat Petr Mrazek in the final 5:22 of the period.
Teuvo Teravainen, Jesper Fast, Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin scored in the second for the Hurricanes. They hurt themselves by taking bad penalty after bad penalty while giving the Lightning six power-play opportunities.
“If you give that caliber of power play that many chances, it’s not a recipe for success," Slavin said. "We’ve just got to stay more disciplined and play hard, but play smart as well and not give them chances that they don’t need.”