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Mar 20, 2024 11:28 pm

Nikita Kucherov, Lightning look to stay hot vs. lowly Sharks

Kucherov

After a hot night in Las Vegas, the Tampa Bay Lightning will keep putting their money on Nikita Kucherov for more on-ice winnings.

Riding a four-game winning streak, the surging Lightning (37-25-6, 80 points) travel to San Jose to finish their season series with the hapless Sharks (16-45-7, 39 points) on Thursday night.

Kucherov started the Western part of the Lightning’s five-game road trip with a bang on Tuesday, producing four points — an empty-net tally and three assists.

Tampa Bay took a late lead and topped the Golden Knights 5-3 after allowing a goal to former Lightning player Jonathan Marchessault in the first 74 seconds.

“I didn’t realize he had four points tonight, I guess he’s been doing that almost every night,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “(His line) was on the ice for that first goal against, but they know they’ve got better in them.”

The four points pushed Kucherov’s total to 118 (41 goals, 77 assists) and edged him past the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon (117) for the league lead.

While Kucherov’s empty-net marker with 1:09 remaining sealed it, it was his long pass that banked straight back off the end boards to the net’s front that set up Brayden Point’s game-winner.

After Point outraced Nicolas Hague and Noah Hanifin to the puck to prevent icing, the center notched his 38th goal for a 4-3 lead with 7:46 left.

Kucherov’s 39th career three-assist game is fourth among active players behind Sidney Crosby (62), Connor McDavid (45) and Nicklas Backstrom (44).

During their 11-game winless streak to start the season (0-10-1), the Sharks were blanked 6-0 in Tampa in the first meeting on Oct. 26, an overwhelming shutout in the middle match of a five-game road trip.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood has been on injured reserve since Feb. 28 after suffering a lower-body injury against the New Jersey Devils in a 7-2 home loss.

At Nashville on Tuesday before the finale of a five-game road trip, coach David Quinn said Blackwood was very close to returning, but Magnus Chrona played in his ninth NHL game and surrendered eight goals on 40 shots in an 8-2 thrashing.

Mario Ferraro notched a goal and an assist and Mikael Granlund scored against his former team, but Nashville netted seven unanswered goals in the rout.

Defenseman Jan Rutta returned to the lineup after a lower-body injury, logging 20:12 of ice time but went minus-5.

In finishing 0-5-0 on the trip, the Sharks were outscored 26-11.

Since a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 17, they are 1-12-2.

San Jose’s play more recently resembles its disastrous start to the season than the decent stretch of 5-2-1 from Jan. 20 to Feb. 15.

“It was 4-2 with 10 minutes to go and you think all you need is to get one and it’s a game,” Quinn said. “Then we give up four goals in the last 10 minutes and that’s really disappointing. Really disappointing.”

Granlund netted his 10th goal, while Ferraro’s second of the season gave San Jose a 2-1 edge at 5:46 of the second period.

But it all fell apart after that as the Predators scored seven and extended their point streak to a franchise-record-tying 15 games.

“We had a good 30 minutes and bad next 30 minutes, that was pretty much it,” Granlund said.

–Field Level Media

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