Canadiens give NHL-leading Lightning all they can handle

Nikita Kucherov scored in regulation and in the shootout to help the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.

It wasn’t the recipe that led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the majority of their 47 wins on the season, but it worked out just fine against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon.

With a 3-2 shootout win, the Lightning picked up points 99 and 100 and are now nine points away from setting a new franchise record in the category. With 13 games left in the season, is there any doubt this team will achieve this? They’ve now won 10 of their last 11 games and six in a row.

Meanwhile, Tampa was in tough against the Canadiens — as it had been in all three of the previous games these teams played against each other this season. The Lightning were second to most of the loose pucks and struggled mightily to generate the type of quality scoring chances that have made them the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season.

But Nikita Kucherov hit pay dirt with just over six minutes remaining in regulation to tie the game 2-2, scoring his 34th goal of the season off a bad turnover from Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn. He scored the winner in the shootout, too, after teammate Brayden Point got the ball rolling with a gorgeous one.

Here are your takeaways from the game.

[snippet id=3918715]

Scoring depth makes Tampa unstoppable

Tyler Johnson set himself in the middle of the left faceoff circle and hammered home a perfect one-timer with his right-handed shot to tie the game 1-1 in the first period.

With the goal, Johnson became the sixth Lightning player to hit 20 this season.

Granted, Vladislav Namestnikov was traded to the Rangers after scoring his 20th in a Lightning uniform and he’s no longer in the fold. But 20-goal scorers Kucherov, Point, Steven Stamkos and Yanni Gourde remain, and there are several other threats on this roster.

J.T. Miller (13 goals), who came over in the trade for Namestnikov, was one of the most involved players in this game, and his move to a line with Kucherov and Stamkos led to Kucherov’s late goal in the third period.

Alex Killorn and Chris Kunitz are proven, capable scorers, who both have more than 10 goals on the season.

And Ondrej Palat, who might be Tampa’s best two-way forward, is nearing a return from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out since Jan. 21.

This group is just lethal.

About the other guy the Lightning acquired in the Namestnikov trade…

Former Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh made his debut in a Lightning uniform after missing just over a month with a hand injury.

He wasn’t exactly at his best. On a third pairing with former Rangers defence partner Dan Girardi, McDonagh finished with no points and an even rating. He coughed up the puck to Alex Galchenyuk for a goal that could’ve stood as the winner had Benn not set up Kucherov later on, and other signs of rust were apparent.

But McDonagh took an established vet in Andrej Sustr out of Tampa’s lineup and the potential this blue line now has with him in the fold is mammoth. Put this group in front of the consensus best goaltender in the NHL this season in Andrei Vasilevskiy and it could push the team over the edge.

They looked solid in front of backup Louis Domingue on Saturday.

And if anyone goes down, Braydon Coburn and Slater Koekkoek are capable depth options.

[snippet id=3816507]

Phillip Danault down again

It was late in the second period that Canadiens centre Phillip Danault took a puck to the chin, according to Montreal coach Claude Julien. He was unable to return for the third period and overtime.

The Canadiens labeled it "an injury," but there has to be concern about a concussion after he suffered one back on Jan. 13 when he was hit on the side of the head by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara’s slapshot.

Danault missed 15 games with that injury. He returned for eight games and was held out of Thursday’s 5-0 loss to the Florida Panthers with neck pain.

It’s been a rough few months for him. If he’s out for any length of time, he joins Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty, Victor Mete and Rinat Valiev on Montreal’s injured list.

[snippet id=3638287]

Charles Hudon impressed

One player who came off the list for Saturday’s game was Charles Hudon.

He had missed Montreal’s last four games with a hand injury but was in fine form against the Lightning, registering an assist on Artturi Lehkonen’s goal in the first period and another on Galchenyuk’s in the second.

But Hudon almost found himself back on injured reserve when Tampa’s Jake Dotchin took him hard into the boards in the third period. Hudon looked to have taken the brunt of the contact with his left foot and could barely put any weight on it on his way off the ice.

Hudon returned roughly eight minutes later and ended up drawing a penalty on Miller in his first shift back.

All in all, it was a strong performance for the Canadiens’ rookie.


Jonathan Drouin and Mikhail Sergachev face off in the shootout

They were traded for each other back in June and they were featured in the shootout of this game.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper put Sergachev in for his first attempt all season and the 19-year-old defenceman booted his opportunity through Antti Niemi’s legs and wide.

Drouin got the tap from Julien and he kept his team in the game with a beautiful goal before Kucherov scored and Lehkonen missed.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.