TAMPA BAY, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – Perhaps it was fitting that Nikita Kucherov finished off the Buffalo Sabres with the third shot of sudden death overtime in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 topping of the Sabres at Amalie Arena.
He had already put his stamp on the game in the second period when he put the Lightning on the board at 11:10 in the second period on a 2-on-1 rush that gave him his eighth goal in the last seven games.
That goal marked Kucherov’s 100th point of the season as he became the fourth Lightning player in history to accomplish the feat and has now scored 30 or more goals in 30 consecutive games.
“He was dominant out there tonight. The kid wants to win and wears his emotions on his sleeve,” said Tampa Bay coach John Cooper. “There’s not too much more you can say about him. He’s a remarkable player and he’s having an amazing season.”
Kucherov appeared to be playing at a higher speed than anyone else on the ice for most of the evening. He had eight shots on goal as he was able to get close to Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton on several occasions. To Hutton’s credit, he was able to make the needed stops on seven of Kucherov’s season-high eight opportunities.
The second period goal came off a ricochet from the heel of Buffalo center Jeff Skinner’s skate and then found the back of the back of the net. Tyler Johnson threw a solid cross ice pass that Kucherov collected for the score.
“I was a little confused on what the play was there, but it was nice to be able to kind of get it over to Kuch,” said Johnson of his 17th assist of the season. “I passed it to him and pretty much knew it was in.”
The Sabres played a physical defensive game all evening that could have had some impact on Tampa Bay’s snipers as Hutton, who came in with a 15-17-3, stopped 39 of 40 shots.
In the overtime, Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen chopped down Kucherov at the net. Kucherov was obviously incensed as he got up and he and Ristolainen fought behind the goal as both players were given two minutes for roughing.
This came on the second 2-on-1 opportunity for the Lightning which Hutton once again turned away.
“We just tried battling,” noted Hutton. “They got a good hockey team and they’re a pretty skilled team, so we just tried to compete.”
The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 29 Sabres shots as he won his sixth straight start.
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead at 18:13 in the first period when defenseman Rasmus Dahlin scored his seventh goal of the season on a slap shot from just outside the left face-off circle. It deflected off Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonough and Vasilevskiy.
As the Sabres and Lightning entered the game, they were going in opposite directions. Buffalo had lost four out of five as the Sabres collected a point and are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, five back of Columbus for eighth place.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continues what has become a magical season at 47-11-4 as the Lightning continue to set the pace in the entire NHL and is 9-0-3 in the last 12 outings.
Ken Cross is a sports contributor for the Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org