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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a road trip ending win in Edmonton

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 6-3 win over the Oilers on Saturday night

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning capped the pre-Christmas portion of the regular season schedule by doubling up the Edmonton Oilers 6-3 at Rogers Place Saturday night.

In doing so, the Lightning have completed the most successful start to a season in franchise history.

Tampa Bay improved to 28-7-2 on the season and tallied its 57th and 58th points. The Lightning continue to top the NHL standings by a whopping eight points over second place Toronto and Winnipeg, who have been winning at a respectable clip of their own just to keep pace.

The Bolts' 58 points through 37 games are their most in franchise history, two points more than they had through 37 games last season when they also set a franchise record for points through 37 games.

In defeating Edmonton, the Lightning extended their season-long point streak to 12 games, the third-longest point streak in franchise history and the longest in the NHL this season. Tampa Bay has yet to lose in regulation in December, going 10-0-1. They've scored goals at an incredible rate. The win in Edmonton was their seventh-consecutive game netting four or more goals and 26th time overall this season. They're 23-1-2 when scoring four or more.

Last season, the Lightning registered a franchise-record 290 goals on the season, the most goals in the NHL since Washington put up 313 during the 2009-10 season.

Right now, the Bolts are on pace to score 335 goals.

It's been an incredible ride for the Lightning so far, and the regular season's not even half over.

Here's how they got to win No. 28 on the season in Edmonton.

Video: Kucherov has five points, Lightning beat Oilers

The four-game Western Canada swing was supposed to provide the Lightning with a stiff challenge, maybe their toughest to date of the season. Four games in seven nights. Nearly 5,800 miles of air travel in three different time zones. Contests against top of the Western Conference teams like Winnipeg and Calgary mixed in with challenging games against surging Vancouver and Edmonton.

If the Western Canada trip was the midterm for the 2018-19 season, the Lightning set the curve and nearly aced it.

The Bolts took seven of a possible eight points in going 3-0-1, the only setback a 5-4 overtime loss in a back-and-forth game in Winnipeg to begin the journey. The Lightning routed Vancouver in the following game, prevailed in a seven-round shootout in Calgary and dismantled Edmonton in the third period to turn a close game into a runaway win on Saturday.

"We were looking forward to this trip," said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who scored two goals in the 6-3 victory over the Oilers. "We knew it was going to be tough. Every team that we played has been playing really well. It was going to be a battle. It was going to be a test for us, and I thought our team did extremely well. We're playing pretty good hockey right now."

The last time the Lightning went to Edmonton, they were thumped 6-2 and allowed Connor McDavid to score four goals. That game also came at the end of a long road trip for the Bolts.

The Lightning could have mailed it in Saturday. After all, they'd already taken five points from the road trip, reaching head coach Jon Cooper's benchmark for a successful road trip of more points gained than games played. The game was the last before the Christmas break, when the Bolts would get four well-deserved days off.

You could almost forgive them for looking ahead.

The Lightning wouldn't forgive themselves though if that happened.

They played with purpose in Edmonton. After an up-and-down start, the Lightning took control midway through the second period, about the time when the weariness from the road trip should have been making their legs heavy, and took control in the third, outscoring the Oilers 3-1 and outshooting them 15-9 in the final period.

"What I liked about tonight, we were sound all night," Cooper said. "It was a good way to go into the break."

Video: TBL@EDM: Kucherov scores on breakaway

Nikita Kucherov played maybe the best game of his NHL career Saturday night in Edmonton, statistically anyway.

Kucherov recorded five points, scoring an important, momentum-swinging goal in the second period and tacking on four assists to set a career high for single-game scoring, bettering his previous mark of four points set six times previously, including once this season.

"Kuch is an unbelievable player," Johnson said. "He sees the ice better than anyone else. He was dynamic for us tonight. He's one of the big reasons why we won that game."

Kucherov's breakaway goal in the second erased a 2-1 deficit for the Lightning and was the impetus they needed to take control of the game. Kucherov had been denied earlier on a breakaway when he tried to make a late move to his backhand but was thwarted in tight by Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen. On his second breakaway attempt, Kucherov eschewed the fancy play for the simple one, snapping a powerful wrist shot from the slot over the glove of Koskinen, whose glove never moved until the puck was already in the back of the net.

It was Kucherov who set up his breakaway too by pouncing on Jesse Puljujarvi's poor touch inside the Lightning zone, stealing the puck away and outracing a trio of Oilers down to the other end of the ice.

A little over a minute-and-a-half later, J.T. Miller redirected Erik Cernak's pass into the back of the net, and the Lightning owned their first lead 3-2 at 14:32 of the second period.

"It was funny on (Kucherov's) goal, pretty much everyone said you weren't going to stop Kuch twice," Johnson said. "I think Pointer and I even stopped skating a little bit because we knew it was going in. He's a guy that buries his chances and creates for other guys on the ice. He was fun to watch tonight."

Kucherov helped set up Johnson early in the third period for the Lightning's fourth goal and a 4-2 lead. After Edmonton pulled to within 4-3 on its second power-play goal of the game, Kucherov hit Steven Stamkos in the slot for the captain's second of two goals to re-establish the Bolts' two-goal lead. Kucherov assisted on Johnson's empty-netter in the final 90 seconds to register his fifth point of the night and the 12th game of five or more points in Lightning history.

Kucherov pulled into second place in the NHL scoring race and now trails Colorado's Mikko Rantanen by just two points.

"He's been fantastic here these last, I don't know, 18 months," Anton Stralman said. "He's truly one of the best in the league. He sees the game like no one else. The things he comes up with sometimes, it's quite impressive. It's fun. It's fun being out there with him. You know he's going to create chances for himself and for other players. I think sometimes maybe he's on a different wave length, especially from me. Sometimes he pops out and makes plays that I'm not prepared for. He's just a terrific player."

Video: TBL@EDM: Stamkos finishes give-and-go with Kucherov

Through the first 25 games of the season, Steven Stamkos had scored just seven goals, and there were whispers maybe the Lightning captain would never again be the goal scorer he was his first few years in the league.

Those whispers have vanished without a trace amid one of the hottest goal-scoring runs Stamkos has produced during his career.

Stamkos netted a pair of goals in Saturday's victory, getting the Lightning on the board on a first period power play and sealing the game with the clinching goal with 4:57 remaining to put the Bolts ahead 5-3.

With his two goals in Edmonton, Stamkos reached the 20-goal mark for the 10th time in his 11 seasons in the league. The only season he didn't reach 20, he injured his knee in the 17th game and missed the remainder of the season. He still put up nine goals in those 17 games, and it's likely if he stays healthy in 2016-17, he's the Lightning all-time leader for goals right now.

As it stands, he still needs 15 goals to reach Vinny Lecavalier's franchise record 383 career goals. But the way Stamkos is scoring goals currently, he might get to that total by the All-Star break.

Stamkos has netted 13 goals over his last 12 games. He's registered 12 goals in December and leads the NHL for goals in the month. He also matched his career high for goals in a single month established previously in both November of 2010 and March of 2012.

And he still has three more games in the month to set a new career high.

Before December started, Stamkos was probably a borderline pick to play in his sixth career All-Star Game.

Now, it's hard to imagine the 28 year old not being invited to the showcase event.

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