Kucherov returns, fuels Lightning’s big 3rd in win

NHL

TAMPA, Fla. — Nikita Kucherov had a pair of nifty assists in his return from a lengthy injury during Tampa Bay’s three-goal third period, and the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Thursday night.

Corey Perry, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn scored to help Tampa Bay (23-8-5, 51 points) become the first NHL team to reach 50 points for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves, losing his shutout bid when Dillon Dube scored with 4:06 left.

Kucherov, who missed 32 games with an undisclosed lower-body injury that required surgery, sent a pass through the slot from the low right circle to set up Point’s goal that put the Lightning up 2-0 2:52 into third. The right wing then made a spin move behind the net to assist on Palat’s low slot goal at 10:10.

“Do I think he played well? I do,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Do I think he has better than that? I do. Do I think he is an elite talent? I do.”

Kucherov missed all of the 2020-21 abbreviated regular season following hip surgery and came back to have a league-best 32 playoff points as Tampa Bay won its second consecutive Stanley Cup. He had three shots on goal and five missed attempts in 17½ minutes of play Thursday.

“It felt good,” Kucherov said. “It was nice to be back, that’s for sure.”

Killorn made it 4-0 just 14 seconds after Palat’s goal.

Flames backup goalie Dan Vladar stopped 29 shots in his first game since Dec. 7. Johnny Gaudreau had his 11-game road points streak (nine goals, 18 points) end.

“I thought we played a better team,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. “They wear you out.”

Perry opened the scoring at 12:21 of the second.

Calgary right wing Brad Richardson was given a match penalty for an illegal check to the head on Mathieu Joseph with five minutes left in the second. Joseph was not hurt.

Tampa Bay outshot the Flames 14-8 and hit the post twice during a scoreless first period. Vladar made four saves, including on Steven Stamkos’ drive from the left circle and Kucherov’s shot from the low right circle, during a power play late in the period.

Vladar was also strong in the second, turning aside 13 of 14 shots.

“Sometimes you learn lessons the hard way in this league and I thought we learned a lot of them, tonight,” Flames center Blake Coleman said.

Gaudreau appeared to make contact with Stamkos behind the net following Killorn’s goal that led to a scrum. There were three fights in the game.

WELCOME BACK

Coleman received his 2021 Stanley Cup ring from the Lightning before the morning skate and was honored in a video tribute in the first period.

Coleman, a two-time Cup winner with Tampa Bay, signed as a free agent with the Flames during the offseason. He had two goals, including the winner in Game 2, during Tampa Bay’s five-game Final win over Montreal last July.

“I can’t say enough great things about Blake Coleman,” Cooper said. “His intangibles were exceptional. We don’t win the Cups without him. Brings back a ton of good memories but also some sad ones in the fact he’s not here anymore.”

NUMBERS

Tampa Bay is 8-0-1 in its past nine home games. … The 36-year old Perry reached 10 goals for the first time since 2017-18 while with Anaheim. … Kucherov has 153 multipoint games, fourth most in team history.

UP NEXT

Flames: At Carolina on Friday night.

Lightning: Host Boston on Saturday night.

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