Kucherov scores early, Tomkins earns first NHL win as Lightning beat Canadiens 5-3

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stamkos scores in lightning win over canadiens
(Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)
stamkos scores in lightning win over canadiens
(Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

MONTREAL (AP) — Matt Tomkins waited a long time to earn his first NHL win. But he might not change a thing about the way it happened.

The 29-year-old Tomkins was drafted in the seventh round in 2012 but only made his first start last month in Ottawa, making stops in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League and the Swedish Hockey League along the way.

On Tuesday night, he made 22 saves to backstop the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens for his first victory in an NHL net.

“Everything’s been worth it to get to this point, a lot of questions along the way of ‘am I doing the right thing?’ and ‘is this for me?’ and there’s been a lot of stops in getting here,” said Tomkins. “It’s really special.”

After losing in Tomkins’ first two starts, the Lightning did their best to secure a win in his third.

A red-hot Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist, Nicholas Paul scored twice, and Alex Barre-Boulet and Michael Eyssimont also had goals for Tampa Bay, which jumped out to a 4-0 lead a night after giving up a three-goal lead in a 6-5 overtime loss in Toronto on Monday.

Captain Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak and Michael Pezzetta scored for Montreal. Jake Allen allowed four goals on nine shots before getting the hook 13 minutes, 50 seconds into the game.

Samuel Montembeault had 22 saves for Montreal, but it was Tomkins’ night.

“What a thrill,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “If you were going to draw it up, I’m not sure you can draw it up any better than getting to play in the Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.”

The Canadiens lost their fourth game in a row, and the third in regulation.

Before some fans could take their seats, Kucherov opened the scoring with an effortless wrist shot over Allen’s right shoulder 22 seconds into the game for his 10th goal of the season.

“You get scored on in the first shift, we’re a bit of a fragile team right now,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “We’ve lost a bit of confidence, so that’s kind of what happened in the first period.”

Kucherov, a Hart Trophy winner as league MVP in 2019, entered the game one point back of the league lead and is up to 11 points in his past three games.

Paul snuck in behind Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson and tapped home a juicy rebound off a Steven Stamkos shot to make it 2-0 at 7:15 of the first.

Barre-Boulet scored 1:54 later after Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky took a holding penalty, finishing off a tic-tac-toe sequence on the power play in front of family and friends in the Bell Centre crowd.

Eyssimont added to Tampa’s advantage with a short-side shot that trickled through to make it 4-0 with 6:10 left in the first — and that was it for Allen.

The Canadiens settled things down in the second with Montembeault manning the crease.

“It wasn’t an easy first period for anyone and it wasn’t necessarily Jake’s fault,” said St. Louis. “But Sam stepped in the net, and look, he did the job.”

UP NEXT

Lightning: Host Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

Canadiens: Visit Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl