Hard to stop Kucherov line for so long

After the Islanders limited that line to four shots and one goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals, that line came back with a vengeance by finishing Game 2 with two goals, three assists and nine shot-on-goals.

Photo from nhl.com

In Game 1, the Islanders held the Lightning top line of Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov to only four shots. This explained why they took a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions on Sunday to take a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup semifinals. It was as close as a perfect game they played.

Tuesday night told a different story. The Lightning’s line accumulated nice shots on goal.

The Lightning’s top line scored two of the team’s four goals in the Lightning’s Game 2 4-2 victory over the Islanders on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena. In a big game that their team needed, they came through. This should make the Islanders wary as the series continues. They can do it again, and they likely will.

Point scored the Lightning’s first goal in the first period, and Palat broke the game-tying goal by scoring a goal to make it a 2-1 game in the second period. Nikita Kucherov assisted on both goals.

Of all the Lightning players that are dangerous, it’s always Kucherov. He can beat you in so many ways. He can score a pretty goal and an ugly goal. He has one of the nicest slapshots of the game that brings memories of Al MacInnis. He can set up passes, too.

There’s a reason he won a Hart Trophy, a Ross Trophy and a Stanley Cup. There’s a reason he has five goals, 17 assists and 22 points in this year’s postseason. There’s a reason he collected 41 goals, 76 assists and 117 points in his postseason career. There’s a reason he will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. There’s a reason his jersey will be retired in the Amalie Arena rafters one day.

It’s no wonder why the Lightning circumvented the salary cap to get Kucherov on the postseason roster. He makes things go for that team. New York-New Jersey hockey fans know that from him scoring goals against the Islanders, Rangers and Devils in the postseason for a long time.

We can quibble about the Lightning having seven men on ice when Palat broke the tie in the second period. But that point was negated when Brock Nelson scored on a power-play that was awarded generously to the Islanders after the Islanders had a stick on Point that aided him to crash into Semyon Varlamov, who had to leave the game for the rest of the first period. The Islanders goaltender did come back in the second period and finish the game.

But look past the seven men on the ice for a second here and marvel how Kucherov choreographed that Palat goal. When Victor Hedman passed the puck to Kucherov, the Lightning winger spun around Nick Leddy and passed it to Palat to score.

After the Islanders clogged the zone to prevent him from scoring a breakaway goal, he improvised by finding his open linemate that would be in a position to score. This is what he did with Point on being on the point to score (pun intended). Here’s what was impressive to what he did: He was being double-teamed at the time.

The first period assist by Kucherov was good, too, even though it won’t be talked about much. He dished out a no-look, back-handed pass to Point.

Both of those assists were Mat Barzal-like. It would make the Islanders star envious.

It speaks of how much Kucherov evolved from a scorer to a facilitator over the years. He makes other players better. It tells about how much wisdom he gained from playing the game for the last six seasons. What’s scary is he is only 27 years old. He can do this into his late 30s.

When all is said and done, he may be the best Lightning player ever.

Point and Palat can be damn good in their own right. With Point, he knows how to score the greasy goal, which is much needed in the playoffs. With Palat, leave him open and he can wing it as well as Kucherov. This line gives more problems than the Brad Marchand- David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron line in a sense those guys can shoot from long distance.

There is a reason the Lightning can repeat as Stanley Cup champs. They are loaded offensively, and it starts with the Kucherov-Point-Palat line.

If the Islanders can shut down that line three more times this season and get wins out of it, they would have earned it like they did in Game 1.


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