Kucherov reaches 500 assists as Lightning ease past Wild
Kucherov, who leads the league with 75 points, had his fourth game this season with three or more assists. He achieved the milestone in his 688th game, the third fastest to reach the mark among active players behind Connor McDavid (527) and Sidney Crosby (554).
“He’s hitting them so quick,” Point said. “He’s having another unbelievable year for us. Not surprising that he’s got 500 assists already. The way he sees the ice and the way he can make plays.”
Victor Hedman had a goal and three assists for Tampa Bay. Waltteri Merela, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Michael Eyssimont also scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 30 saves.
Tampa Bay won a season-best fourth consecutive game.
“It’s a tough league to win and you don’t take those for granted,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But at some point, we have to dig our heels in here and win some games.”
Jake Middleton had a goal and two assists for the Wild, his second three-point game of the season. Joel Eriksson Ek and Marco Rossi had the other goals for Minnesota, which fell to 2-8-1 in its last 11 games. Filip Gustavsson stopped 31 shots.
Kucherov’s milestone assist came on Stamkos’ power-play goal early in the third. It was the 205th career power-play goal for Stamkos, tying Joe Sakic for 16th all-time.
The Wild opened the scoring on Eriksson Ek’s goal 5:17 into the game. Tampa Bay answered 55 seconds later on Hedman’s eighth goal of the season.
Tampa Bay built a two-goal lead in the second on Cirelli’s first goal of the game, followed by the first career goal from Merela 3:20 into the period. The Lightning led 4-3 by the end of the second.
“It’s about the management and understanding time and score and the situations,” Minnesota coach John Hynes said. “Tonight, when it was in the balance — down by one, down by two — we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Essiymont’s power-play goal at 6:59 of the third gave the Lightning a three-goal advantage, and Cirelli capped off the night with his 10th goal of the season with 2:08 remaining.
Minnesota announced earlier Thursday that captain Jared Spurgeon will miss the remainder of the season with hip and back injuries that will require separate surgeries.
“It’s really difficult,” Hynes said. “Number one, for (Spurgeon), you never want to see someone have to go through that. But I think overall, down the road, it’ll be really good for him. He battled his way through it and he couldn’t make it any further, so wish him the best in the surgeries, recovery, and look forward to seeing him around the rink.”
Wild: At Florida on Friday.
Lightning: At Buffalo on Saturday.
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