Once all the fighting was finally done, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked up and found themselves in a familiar position: ahead on the scoreboard.
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist to reach 50 points this season and lead the Lightning past the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Tuesday night.
A feisty Canucks squad kept pace with Tampa Bay in a heated game marked by a flurry of brawls, but couldn’t overpower the top team in the NHL.
Lightning coach John Cooper was a little surprised at the animosity between the teams, but he liked the way his group responded.
“You’re not advocating things either way about the rough stuff, but you want your guys sticking up for each other and it looked like two teams sticking up for each other,” he said.
Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne, Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat also scored for the Lightning (26-7-2). Tampa Bay has not lost in regulation since Nov. 27.
Tyler Motte and Chris Tanev had the goals for the Canucks (16-17-4).
Anders Nilsson stopped 34 of 38 shots for Vancouver, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves for Tampa Bay.
“It was a hell of a hockey game,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “I like the way our team is coming together. They’re sticking together, they’re battling hard. This was a man’s game out there tonight. It was a hard-fought game.”
Fists flew throughout the second period, starting with a scrap between Vancouver’s Antoine Roussel and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde.
The Canucks left wing hit the Lightning center along the boards, sparking a fight that saw Roussel pummel Gourde on the ice before officials could intervene.
By the end of the game, Roussel had amassed a fighting major, a roughing minor and an assist.
“It’s fun to fight. It’s fun to be pesky,” he said. “You go out there and fight really hard but you still have to win games. That’s our main goal here, to win games.”
There was a unique intensity to the game, he added.
“It felt like a playoff game a little bit. Like everything was on the line. And if you can get those in the season, it’s wonderful,” Roussel said.
Another skirmish began after Danick Martel, playing just his second game of the season, delivered a high hit on Troy Stecher. The defenseman had to be helped off the ice and headed directly to the Vancouver dressing room. Green said Stecher is hurt but did not elaborate.
Roussel was sitting in the penalty box and said he had a clear view of the play.
“I thought it was awful, to be honest with you,” he said. “I really thought he could have five minutes for that.”
Martel was handed a two-minute minor for interference, but felt it was a clean shoulder-to-shoulder play.
“I think it was a good hit,” he said. “I had the puck after — that’s what you want — and I got jumped, but I protect myself and I was ready for it.”
Tampa Bay was up 3-1 at the time, but Vancouver was outshooting the Lightning and controlling the flow.
“After my hit I think we were playing in their head, too,” Martel said. “They were just trying to hit us instead of playing the puck. So we had the puck a lot, we created a lot of plays.”
By the end of the period, referees had doled out a game misconduct, two fighting majors and three roughing penalties to Tampa Bay. Two Vancouver players were penalized for fighting, and four for roughing.
Kucherov opened the scoring 8:40 into the game, but the Canucks responded less than a minute later. Stecher found Motte in front and he tipped the puck past Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning went up again before the end of the first period thanks to a move by Martel. While spinning away from Ben Hutton, the left wing got a seemingly blind pass off to Paquette, who was alone in front. Paquette got the puck on his tape and popped it up over Nilsson’s pad.
The assist was Martel’s first NHL point.
Midway through the second, the Lightning struck again when Canucks right wing Brock Boeser struggled to clear the puck. Paquette found it in front and Erne deflected it in to put Tampa Bay up 3-1.
Vancouver got back within one 5:46 into the third when Tanev squeezed a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy during a burst of activity in front.
Stamkos provided insurance with 2:38 to go, slipping a wrist shot past Nilsson. Palat sealed it with an empty-netter less than a minute later, assisted by Kucherov.
The 24-year-old Martel nearly didn’t make it into the lineup. Right wing Ryan Callahan had some upper-body issues during warmups and was scratched. Martel was on his way to the rink when he got the call saying he needed to get his gear on.
“It was pretty close but I was not really ready for it. I was walking pretty slowly, on my phone and just hanging out there,” he said.
The key to his performance was not thinking too much, Martel said.
“I was just expecting absolutely nothing. Pretty much everyone would have thought I would have a bad game, he’s going to play two or three minutes, maybe one (defense) shift and just covers some shifts,” he explained. “But I wanted to make a difference. I don’t have a lot of opportunities and when I have some I need to get ready.”
NOTES: Tampa Bay center Brayden Point had an assist for his 150th career point. … Kucherov is third in the NHL scoring race. … Despite all the time spent in the penalty box, neither team managed a power-play goal.
Lightning: Play at Calgary on Thursday.
Canucks: Continue their five-game homestand Thursday against St. Louis.
Source: The Associated Press