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Kucherov adds to NHL points lead as Lightning beat Habs

Nikita Kucherov Nikita Kucherov, Lightning celebrate - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — The Tampa Bay Lightning are staying white hot as they close in on a playoff spot.

Steven Stamkos and Nicholas Paul had two goals apiece to lift Tampa Bay to a 7-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. The Lightning are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games to lead the Eastern Conference's wild-card race.

"This was a solid effort in a back-to-back situation,” said Stamkos, referring to Tampa's 4-1 win in Toronto the night before. "Except for a bit of a letdown in the third period we were on top of them They have some talented players and that’s going to happen.

"We told ourselves 12, 15 games ago that we needed a run like this and we have to keep it going."

NHL points leader Nikita Kucherov scored his 43rd goal of the season and added two assists as the Lightning (43-26-7). Michael Eyssimont and Brandon Hagel scored the other Tampa Bay goals.

Joel Armia scored twice for the Canadiens (29-34-12). Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufied scored the other goals in a third-period push which fell short.

There were frequent scrums and Slafkovsky said that was the result of the Canadiens trying to match the Lightning’s intensity.

"They’re a playoff team and I’ve said many times we want to play playoff hockey, so we’re going to do all the scrums and stuff,” said Slafkovsky. "That’s what we’re trying to get better at and I feel like the closer we get to a playoff spot or even now, just building up, the games will be intense and we want to fight and win the physical part of the game, and then also obviously win on the board.”

Matt Tomkins, a 29-year-old journeyman who was making only his fourth NHL start and the first since Nov. 7, made 26 saves for the win. He has a 2-2-0 record with both of his wins coming against the Canadiens in Montreal.

"He obviously likes playing in this building," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When we lost (Andrei) Vasilevskiy for 25 games at the beginning on the season, people expected us to go out and get a goalie but we had faith in Tommy and (Jonas Johasnsson)

Cayden Primeau made 28 saves in the loss.

The Canadiens played most of the game with five defencemen. Kaiden Guhle left with an upper-body injury early in the first period after he was driven into the end boards by a hard check from Kucherov. There was no penalty on the play.

Hagel left the game with seven minutes remaining after an open-ice collision with teammate Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli left the game in the second period.

“This is the time of year when you don’t take chances and we kept them out as a precaution,” said Cooper.

Stamkos snapped a 2-2 tie with his first goal of the night at 7:58 of the second period and Paul scored his second goal of the game 74 seconds later

UP NEXT — The Lightning wraps up its three-game road trip with a Saturday afternoon game in Pittsburgh.

Montreal is home to the archrival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier story. Nikita Kucherov has scored 43 goals, not 34. It fixes the spelling of Brandon Hagel's name. It corrects the saves totals for both goalies.