It was Fan Appreciation Night at Amalie Arena, and the fans certainly appreciated what they saw.

Nikita Kucherov became the fifth player in NHL history to record 100 assists in a single season when he set up Brayden Point for a power-play goal with 2:55 left in the second period. 

The Lightning played one of their strongest games since clinching a playoff berth (although they got sloppy in the closing minutes) and enter the postseason with a feel-good win. 

Lastly, the Lightning, who didn’t dress Victor Hedman or Anthony Cirelli and had Andrei Vasilevskiy back up Matt Tomkins, got out of the game injury-free.

Both Kucherov and Auston Matthews, who entered the game with 69 goals, had numerous opportunities to reach their respective milestone numbers. 

Kucherov recorded his first point of the game by scoring on his own rebound at 6:14 of the first, but he didn’t record his milestone assist until the second period was almost complete. Prior to Point’s goal, Kucherov made several passes that led to scoring chances, but his teammates were unable to finish those opportunities. So it was with great relief that the crowd watched Point accept a Kucherov pass and finish his shot from the slot. 

Matthews was unable to register a goal, but he came close on several occasions. Tomkins made 12 saves on Matthews, who also had one shot attempt ring off the crossbar and another hit Emil Lilleberg when the net was open. 

The Leafs had a strong final 10 minutes of the first period — their surge was fueled by two power-play opportunities. And the Lightning committed some unforced turnovers in the final six minutes that led to Toronto goals. But for much of the night, the Lightning defended much better than they had in recent contests. That will be one of their biggest keys in the upcoming series against Florida.

The series against the Panthers begins on Sunday afternoon. But for now, the Lightning will enjoy celebrating Kucherov’s incredible accomplishment. 

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

  • Nikita Kucherov — Lightning. Goal and assist. 100 assists and 144 points on season.
  • Matt Tomkins — Lightning. 35 saves.
  • Auston Matthews — Maple Leafs. 12 shots on goal.