– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — The chemistry that Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have created together over the past two weeks has led the team to the top of the NHL standings, and the alchemy that existed between the two tonight at the Prudential Center was way too much for the New Jersey Devils to handle.
Kucherov scored the opening goal to go along with three assists and Point tallied the game-winning goal as part of a three-point night as the Lightning dismantled the struggling Devils 5-1 on Monday night. Kucherov extended his point-scoring streak to 10 games as he posted his sixth-career four-point night while Point now sits just a goal behind Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for the league lead as Tampa improved to 8-2-0 in its last 10 games.
“They’re just always around [the puck] and they’re doing all the right things,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said about the duo’s form. “And then top it off with the skill and the compete and all that. Just as a group, they’re playing well and they’re being rewarded for it.”
After the Devils carried the play in the first part of the first period, Kucherov and Point took control of the game to allow the Lightning to take a 2-0 lead at the first intermission. Kucherov took a pass from an onrushing Point before firing a low forehand wrist shot past the glove of Devils goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid at 13:31 for the game’s first goal.
Kucherov then returned the favor on a Tampa power play just before the end of the first, sending a perfect pass to the slot to Point, who then one-timed a forehand past Kinkaid with 26 seconds remaining for a backbreaking goal to New Jersey’s hopes to end a five-game losing streak.
Over the team’s last 10 games, Kucherov has scored an astounding 24 points — five goals and 19 assists — while Point has 11 goals and seven assists in that same span.
“The more we play, the more we kind of get comfortable,” said Point, who scored his 20th goal of the season. “[Kucherov] is such a talented player and I’m just trying to find spots for him. He’s so good with the puck and he can find you in such good spots that he’s really fun to play with. I’m just trying to get the holes for him, try to get the space for him.”
Kucherov added a secondary assist on Tyler Johnson’s 11th goal of the season at 8:20 of the second period for a 3-0 lead before the Devils got back into the game on the power play, with defenseman Egor Yakovlev scoring his first NHL goal at 11:26 to cut the Devils deficit to 3-1.
It took just 73 seconds for the Lightning to respond to New Jersey’s tally and suck the life out of the Prudential Center once more, as a misconnected pass from Ben Lovejoy to Taylor Hall led to a turnover in the Devils zone. Ondrej Palat pounced on the bad pass and Yanni Gourde capitalized off of a pass from Steven Stamkos to put Tampa up 4-1.
Stamkos added a goal just 20 seconds into the third period, beating backup goaltender Cory Schneider on the first shot Schneider faced after Kinkaid was pulled after the end of the second period.
Lightning goalkeeper Louis Domingue, making his 11th consecutive start replacing the injured Andrei Vasilevskiy, stopped 26 of 27 shots in earning his third straight victory.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday evening’s game, with all photos taken by New Jersey-based photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 20 pictures in total.