TAMPA — In a game featuring the NHL’s top and bottom teams, which are now separated in the standings by 55 points, the Lightning recorded their 50th victory of the season with a 5-1 win over Ottawa at Amalie Arena on Saturday evening.
In so doing, Tampa Bay equaled the 1995-96 Red Wings for fewest games (66) to reach 50 wins. The Lightning are 50-12-4 for 104 points.
“You can always look back in the record books and I think years from now it will be pretty sweet,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, in appreciating the accomplishment, but knowing the focus is on a bigger prize.
This marks the team’s second straight 50-win season and third in franchise history.
“We want to win as many games as we can,” said Victor Hedman, who was the first of five different goal scorers. “Obviously, it was big for us to bounce back after the game in Boston.”
The Lightning, who were listless in a 4-1 loss at Boston on Thursday night in the second of back-to-back games on the road and their third match in four nights, received plenty of contributions from the defense. Hedman (goal and assist), Erik Cernak (goal and assist) and Braydon Coburn (two assists) each had two points in leading a group of blue liners that combined for four goals and nine points.
“It’s good when you get the scoring from the back end,” said Cooper. “I liked the way we were moving the puck around. There was a big-time shooting mentality. It was good seeing that. We didn’t have that mentality as much the past couple of games.”
While a team milestone was achieved, an individual single-season mark gets closer and closer to being broken.
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist to increase his league-leading point total to 106, which is two behind Vincent Lecavalier’s team record of 108 established in 2006-07. The two-point evening was Kucherov’s 31st multi-point game of the season.
After what was an uneventful opening seven minutes of the game, the teams combined for three goals in 2:11. The scoring spree commenced when Ottawa defenseman Ben Harpur’s attempted clear ended up on the stick of Hedman, who snapped a wrister past Craig Anderson at 7:17 for his ninth goal of the season.
At 8:51 and from just inside the left circle McDonagh beat Anderson with a wrister to the far side. Kucherov picked up the puck behind the Senators net and skated unimpeded to the right point where he left the puck for Cernak. The young defenseman fed a pass across to McDonagh whose seventh goal gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
McDonagh liked the team’s response in coming off the loss to the Bruins.
“We needed to find a way to get a win tonight,” he said. “It was a step back to where we want to be and you never want to let things snowball. We have a lot of leaders that wanted to make a stand (tonight) especially at home.”
The Senators got one back at 9:28 when Anthony Duclair polished off a two-on-one by lifting a shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s right shoulder.
The Lightning killed a pair of penalties over the period’s final five minutes to take the one-goal advantage in the intermission.
Tampa Bay opened up a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes thanks to goals by Cernak and Kucherov, whose seemingly innocent shot from above the left circle beat a screened Anderson through the five-hole for his 31st of the season.
Cernak recorded his first two-point night since he had two assists against Chicago on November 23.
“He’s a pretty young kid still, but he can skate” Cooper said of the 21-year-old Cernak. “When you skate, you can jump into the rush and recover pretty quick. He has some pretty good instincts and it all comes down to confidence.”
There was a little drama in the second period as at 5:06 Kucherov nudged Bobby Ryan, who was breaking in on goal, from behind with his stick just enough to knock him off his skates. A penalty shot was awarded and Vasilevskiy made a glove save, much to the delight of a crowd that chanted “Vasy, Vasy.”
Mikhail Sergachev’s blast from inside the blue line 1:59 into the final period finished the scoring.
The game was Marc Crawford’s first as the Senators’ interim coach after former Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher was let go Friday morning.
Ottawa, which two years after advancing to the Eastern Conference Final is in tear-down mode, has lost seven straight and is 3-14-0 in the last 17. The Sens, who dealt leading scorers Mark Stone and Matt Duchene at the trade deadline, have 49 points.