Lightning strike early, take down cross-state rival Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) —Nikita Kucherov got back on the board, and the Tampa Bay Lightning continued their roll toward the top seed in the NHL playoffs.
Kucherov had two goals and an assist to lift Tampa Bay over the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Sunday night. Kucherov's first-period goal ended an 11-game span without a goal. It was his first since Jan. 12 against Buffalo.
"We knew it was a matter of time, but it was a big one for us," coach Jon Cooper said.
Brayden Point, Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos also scored for the Lightning. Louis Domingue made 25 saves, and Anton Stralman had two assists. Tampa Bay (41-11-4) has 86 points, best in the NHL by a wide margin.
Denis Malgin and Frank Vatrano scored for the Panthers. James Reimer allowed three goals on 12 shots before being replaced by Roberto Luongo to start the third period. Luongo made nine stops.
Point made the score 4-2 when his shot from the right circle went over Luongo's shoulder and into the net at 4:25 of the third for his 32nd goal of the season. Kucherov made the score 5-2 on a power play with 47.2 seconds left. Kucherov is third on the team in scoring with 24 goals.
"Kuch is going to be Kuch. He's going to find a way," Stamkos said. "We weren't too worried. This will really get him going again, I think."
The Lightning scored twice on a total of three shots in the second period, forcing Reimer from the game to start the third.
"We didn't get the saves we needed in the second period," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "Easy decision."
Stamkos put the Lightning ahead 2-0 at 12:08 of the second. Stralman passed from the right circle to Stamkos in the slot, and his shot beat Reimer.
Vatrano closed the gap to 2-1 on his goal about a minute later with a shot from the slot that got past Domingue at 13:11. The goal was Vatrano's eighth in his past 13 games.
"That's a team you can't chase," Vatrano said. "You've got to play with a lead and stay with it. We were just trying to chip away at it but at the end of the day it didn't happen, so we have to regroup and get ready for the next one."
The Lightning stretched their lead to 3-1 on the goal on a breakaway by Callahan with 2:09 left in the second.
The Panthers narrowed the margin to 3-2 on Malgin's goal, a wrist shot from the right circle, with 1:10 left in the second.
Kucherov gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead when his wrist shot from the left circle went between Reimer's pads at 4:02 of the first.
Notes: Luongo played in his 1,030th game, surpassing Patrick Roy for sole possession of second career among goalies. ... Domingue is 10-0-0 in his last 10 appearances, the longest winning personal winning streak ever by a Tampa Bay goalie. John Grahame (2005) and Andrei Vasilevskiey (2017) each won nine straight. ... Panthers forward Colton Sceviour is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. ... F Jamie McGinn has been recalled from AHL Springfield. ... Lightning forward Ondrej Palat missed the game with an upper-body injury.
Lightning: Visit the Calgary Flames on Tuesday
Panthers: Host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.