You never know what you’re going to get in the final game of the regular season.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, Wednesday night’s game at AMALIE Arena had no bearing on the standings. Both teams entered the contest knowing who they will play in the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

These games are often dress rehearsals for the playoffs. Some players will sit out and use the rest. Others will work on getting their game in order one more time before the postseason kicks off. But sometimes, there are players chasing history.

That was the case on Wednesday for two players on opposite benches in Nikita Kucherov and Auston Matthews. Sitting on 99 assists this season, Kucherov entered the game looking to become just the fifth player in NHL history to record 100 helpers in a single campaign. In doing so, he would join an exclusive club featuring Connor McDavid, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieuxand Bobby Orr.

On the other bench was Matthews, who needed one goal to become the first player since 1993 to light the lamp 70 times in a single season. Despite a magical regular season for the American-born sharpshooter, Matthews was unable to find the back of the net and finished the campaign with an ultra-impressive 69 goals.

Kucherov, on the other hand, accomplished his goal and made history in front of a sold-out crowd at AMALIE Arena as chants of “MVP” rained down on the first winger to ever record 100 assists in a single season.

Before Kucherov recorded his historic assist, the Bolts had a quick start to the contest with Nick Paul opening the scoring just 3:58 into the first period. Taking a feed from Matt Dumba near the right circle, Anthony Duclair sent a beautiful saucer pass across the offensive zone, through the legs of TJ Brodie and right onto the tape of Paul, who tapped the puck in on the back door for his career-high 24th goal of the season.

Only 2:16 later, Kucherov picked up his first point of the night, but would have to wait a bit longer for the historic assist.

After Steven Stamkos sent a pass through the neutral zone to Brandon Hagel, the winger moved the puck to Kucherov, who quickly jumped on his own rebound in front and beat Martin Jones over the glove to push the Tampa Bay lead to 2-0 with his 44th goal of the season.  

Ryan Reaves responded with Toronto’s lone goal of the first period at the 13:18 mark to send the team’s to the intermission with the Bolts holding a 2-1 lead.

Following Duclair’s nice setup in for the first goal of the game, Paul returned the favor early in the second period as the Lightning restored the two-goal lead 6:37 into the middle frame. Taking a pass from Stamkos in front of the net, Paul sent a no-look, backhand feed to Duclair, who buried his 24th goal of the season to make it a 3-1 game.

As the period continued to roll along, penalties assessed to Connor Timmins sent Tampa Bay to the power play. Then, history was made.

In a play Bolts fans have seen countless times, Kucherov set up in his spot near the half wall, faked a one-timer and put a pass right on the tape of Brayden Point, who calmly gained possession and fired a shot to the far post for his 46th goal of the campaign, giving Kucherov the extremely rare 100th assist.

As the raucous crowd at AMALIE Arena continued to cheer on the MVP candidate, Tampa Bay kept its foot on the gas and extended the lead to 5-1.

Gathering a stretch pass from Calvin de Haan, Hagel sped into the Toronto zone and ripped a shot bar down and over the glove of Jones for his 26th goal of the year.

The Leafs were able to score three goals in the third period after Tanner Jeannot made it a 6-1 game with his seventh goal of the campaign, but it wasn’t enough as Matt Tomkins earned his third career NHL win with 34 saves on 38 shots against.

The Lightning wrapped up the regular season with a record of 45-29-8, matching last season’s point total of 98. Next stop, playoffs.

Bolts by the Numbers

- Nikita Kucherov (44-100—144, 81 GP) scored a goal and added an assist, marking his 41st multi-point game of the season...Kucherov became the fifth player in NHL history to record 100 assists in a single season...The 2023-24 season is the second in NHL history to feature two players with 100 assists, following 1988-89 when Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky both had 114...Kucherov’s 40th power-play assist was his 100th helper of the season, his second consecutive campaign to hit the mark on the man advantage (42 in 2022-23)...Among the list of players in NHL history with 100 assists in a single season, Nikita Kucherov joined Mario Lemieux (43 in 1988-89), Bobby Orr (42 in 1970-71) and Wayne Gretzky (42 in 1990-91) as the fourth with 40 on the power play at the time of his 100th helper...Kucherov finished with 62 primary assists, 38 secondary assists, 40 power-play assists, 33 assists on Brayden Point goals and 26 multi-assist games.

- Anthony Duclair scored a goal and added an assist, marking his 41st and 42nd points of the season (24-18—42)...Duclair has recorded 15 points over his first 17 games with the Lightning (8-7—15)...Duclair has 11 multi-point games this season, including three since joining the Bolts.

- Nick Paul tallied a goal and assist, marking his 11th multi-point game of the season...Paul finished the season with career-highs in goals (23), assists (21), points (44), power-play goals (9) and power-play points (14).

- Brayden Point scored his team-leading 46th goal of the season and his 15th on the power play...Point wrapped up the 2023-24 campaign with 90 points (46-44—90)...Point had 25 points over his last 18 games of the season (14-11—25).

- Mikey Eyssimont tallied an assist and finished the season with 25 points (11-14—25)...Eyssimont recorded four points over his last seven games of the regular season (1-3—4).

- Matt Dumba recorded an assist, marking his 12th point of the season (4-8—12) and his second as a Bolt (0-2—2).

- Brandon Hagel notched a goal and an assist to bring his point total to 75 (26-49—75)...Hagel picked up his 19th multi-point game of the season...Hagel finished the season with 12 points over his final 12 games (3-9—12).

- Mitchell Chaffee tallied an assist and dished out six hits...Chaffee wrapped up the regular season with four goals, three assists and seven points.

- Darren Raddysh posted an assist to finish the season with 33 points (6-27—33)...Raddysh is one-of-three Lightning skaters to appear in all 82 games this season.

- Calvin de Haan logged an assist, marking his 10th point of the campaign (3-7—10).

- Tanner Jeannot logged his seventh goal and 14th point of the season...Jeannot scored his first goal since December 6th versus Pittsburgh.

- Steven Stamkos registered two assists, marking his fifth season with at least 40 goals and 40 assists...The only active players with as many such seasons are Alex Ovechkin (6x) and Leon Draisaitl (5x)...Stamkos finished the campaign with 81 points (40-41—81).

- Matt Tomkins made 34 saves on 38 shots, recording his third NHL win and his first at AMALIE Arena.

Bolts Quotes

Jon Cooper: “There's definitely some moments when my career's over of what I'll look back on, two of them being when the final 10 seconds count down when we won our Stanley Cups. But this is tucked right behind it.”

Nikita Kucherov: “A special moment. Thanks to my teammates and the coaching staff for putting me in a position to have success. I’m fortunate to be with great players and to play with great players. It’s a good moment.”

Cooper: “You never know how many times this is ever going to come around. When he had 128 points in 2019, did I think he was going to get to that again? I wasn't quite sure. But he's surpassed that and more. He's like fine wine. He's getting better with age. And it's impressive to watch. Everybody should cherish it. You'll remember where you were tonight when that happened. You watched a little piece of history. It was awesome.”

Krenner’s Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov

2. Nikita Kucherov

3. Nikita Kucherov

Lightning Look Ahead

- Game 1: Sunday, April 21 at Florida Panthers, 12:30 p.m. ET, Amerant Bank Arena