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Apr 4, 2024 6:46 am

Lightning ride 9-1-1 run into Montreal

Lightning, leafs

After failing to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in four years last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be peaking at the right time as they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night for the second game of a back-to-back set.

The Lightning, the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup champions, who lost in the 2022 final, improved to 9-1-1 in their past 11 games with an impressive 4-1 road victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov had three assists to break his own franchise single-season records for points (130) and assists (88).

Brayden Point scored his league-leading 12th game-winning goal and 43rd of the season for Tampa Bay (42-26-7, 91 points). The Lightning increased their lead for the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card position to nine points while also closing within four points of the third-place Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division.

Former Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who didn’t make his season debut until Thanksgiving weekend after undergoing back surgery in September, stopped 28 of 29 shots on Wednesday to improve to 29-17-2.

The Lightning, who sputtered to a 14-13-5 record to start the season, have gone 28-13-2 since.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was asked how close his team is to where it needs to be to make another playoff run.

“We’ve got to get in there first,” Cooper said. “But are the Tampa Bay Lightning better in April then they were in October, November or December? We are. Where we’re at I can’t sit here and say for sure. But as we look in the mirror right now, we’re better than when we started.”

One big reason is Kucherov, who is making a strong run for both the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the top point-scorer and MVP, respectively.

“He’s a marvel to watch, and in a big game we needed, he was unreal,” Cooper said. “I get to stand here every night, and I hope that other people watch just how uniquely talented he is.”

Tampa Bay now will face a rested Canadiens team that is in a dogfight with Ottawa to avoid finishing last in the Atlantic Division. Both Montreal (29-33-12, 70 points) and the Senators have the same point total with eight games to play.

The Canadiens come in off a 5-3 home victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, Montreal’s fourth win the past five games. The result snapped the Canadiens’ seven-game, head-to-head losing streak (0-6-1) against the Panthers.

Nick Suzuki scored twice in the second period to give Montreal a 3-2 lead, and Cole Caufield scored what proved to be the game-winner with a wraparound shot 33 seconds into the third period.

“They had our number last year and earlier this year, so it’s nice to beat them,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, they’re on a back-to-back and short-handed a bit, but we played a good game and it’s nice to come out with the win.”

Suzuki leads the Canadiens in scoring with a career-high 71 points (32 goals, 39 assists). He needs one assist to become the first Montreal player with at least 30 goals and 40 assists in a season since Alex Kovalev (35 goals, 49 assists) in 2007-08.

–Field Level Media

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