Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov tallied the first-ever 3-on-3 hat trick in NHL All-Star History to pace the Atlantic Division to a 7-4 semifinal victory over the Metropolitan at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in front of a sellout hometown crowd at Tampa's AMALIE Arena.
The Pacific Division, however, won the 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament for the second time in three years, downing the Atlantic 5-2 in the Final.
"It was fun, had a lot of fun, enjoyed the time and being able to play in front of our fans was just great," Kucherov said from his familiar stall inside the Lightning locker room following the Final. "(The fans) enjoyed it a lot. I loved it, everything, the atmosphere, the organization, it's a high level. Everyone is saying it's just one of the best All-Stars in the last couple years. I'm proud to be with the Lightning. It's a great city, great atmosphere and had fun."
Vancouver rookie Brock Boeser captured MVP honors in an online fan vote, joining Mario Lemieux (1985 in Calgary) as the only rookie to do so at an All-Star Game. Boeser tallied the game-winning goal in the Pacific's 5-2 semifinal win over the Central and added a goal and an assist in the Final.
The three Tampa Bay skaters - Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point - were held without a goal in the Final, but all three played a large role in the Atlantic's come-from-behind victory over the Metropolitan, led by Kucherov's hat trick, which prompted his Atlantic teammates to toss their helmets on the ice, joining the deluge of hats raining down from the AMALIE Arena crowd.
Video: Kucherov dazzles with hat trick in All-Star Game
"I've never seen that before but the guys did it," Kucherov said about the unexpected celebration. "I just laughed."
Added Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who made his All-Star Game debut behind the bench for the Atlantic and was the impetus behind his team's helmet tossing: "There were a lot of ideas being thrown around, but we were wondering how many hats were going to come out. We all talked about it on the bench. We were like let's throw our helmets out as a tribute to him, and the guys bought into it."
Kucherov's third goal harkened back to a spectacular shootout goal he converted last season in Buffalo to seal a Lightning win against the Sabres. He drove to the net on a breakaway, pushed the puck toward the net and brought his stick in front of the puck as if he was going to pull it back for another move. Instead, he continued to just let the puck slide casually toward the net, catching Metro goalie Braden Holtby unaware.
"When you get the puck on a breakaway, just to think about that and try it and then to execute, it's pretty special," said Lightning and Atlantic teammate Brayden Point, making his first All-Star Game appearance.
Kucherov was much more humble about his highlight-reel goal.
"You don't really have to have skill for that move, just push the puck and it just goes in," he said. "It's nothing like to see (Patrick Kane) or (Sidney) Crosby or (Connor) McDavid stickhandle 100 times and the goalie's flying in the corner. This is just a simple one. I think anybody can do it."
Kucherov's second goal was nearly as pretty as his first, the Russian spinning and dropping a pass to Jack Eichel, who returned the favor with a beautifully-executed spin to a wide-open Kucherov on the back post.
Kucherov's first goal of the night, a wrist shot over the glove of Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway, cut the Atlantic's deficit to 3-2 in the second semifinal against the Metro. The Atlantic outscored the Metro 6-1 after going down 3-1 early in the game.
Point provided the game-tying goal with 5:27 to go on a 2-on-1 break with Boston's Brad Marchand, the two passing the puck back-and-forth four times before Point buried a one-timer into the open net.
"Great play by Marchand," said Point, who finished with a goal and an assist. "I gave him a wrist shot in his shin pads and he was able to get it back door to me. For sure, really cool moment."
Stamkos wasn't able to find the back of the net but provided a pair of assists in the Atlantic's semifinal win.
"It's tough to describe one moment," Stamkos said when asked what was his favorite part of All-Star Weekend. "Anytime guys from our team had an introduction, it was pretty special. I thought the standing ovation last night for Brian Boyle was very touching and very special. Kuch's hat trick was a great part of the weekend. All in all from the All-Star festivities to the different events, the concerts, the skills competition, today, everything was just an amazing atmosphere and really happy to be part of it. I think we showcased our city and our community to what it is and it's a great place to live and it's a hockey town."
Andrei Vasilevskiy, also making his All-Star Game debut, played the first half of the semifinal and stopped 10-of-13 shots he faced. The current NHL wins and shutout leader called the All-Star Game the best experience of his life.
Video: Vasilevskiy | Post All-Star Game
"The crowd was amazing," he said. "I want to say thank you to our fans and to other fans too for coming. It was an amazing experience."
Cooper started all four Lightning All-Stars for the opening puck drop of the semifinal win.
"That was probably the easiest battle to get on the ice between a player and a coach," Stamkos joked. "I think that was a special moment to have all of us out there. It was pretty cool to again start the game in front of our home fans."
In the Final, the Pacific jumped out to a 3-1 lead after 10 minutes following goals by Rickard Rakell, Boeser and Drew Doughty against Vasilevskiy, who again started the Final and 8-of-11 saves before giving way to Montreal's Carey Price for the final 10 minutes.
Detroit's Mike Green scored both goals for the Atlantic in the Final. His first goal was assisted by Point, giving the Lightning rookie three points for the tournament (goal, 2 assists). Green's second goal got the Atlantic to within 4-2 with 6:34 to go, but Rakell's second tally of the final at 7:24 secured the win for the Pacific.