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Kucherov sends Lightning past Hurricanes

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- Nikita Kucherov scored two goals, including the game-winner at 19:30 of the third period, to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Amalie Arena on Thursday.

The Lightning (19-8-3) won for the first time in three games. The Hurricanes (8-17-3) have lost four consecutive games.

Kucherov’s 11th goal of the season came during an odd-man rush in the offensive zone. He took a pass from Alex Killorn in the left face-off circle and was attempting a pass to Tyler Johnson that deflected off Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey’s skate past goalie Cam Ward.

“I thought we played well in a lot of areas,” Hainsey said. “We felt good about what we were doing and obviously it was bad break on the goal.”

The Hurricanes tied the game at 12:03 of the third period when defenseman Justin Faulk used a screen from center Elias Lindholm to send a slap shot past Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov. It was Faulk’s fifth goal of the season.

“It’s frustrating,” Carolina wing Jeff Skinner said. “Cam played a great game and we didn’t get the win for him. They scored on a tough bounce, but I think we had more than enough opportunities to score one or two before they got that bounce.”

Kucherov scored at 6:35 of the third period on a power play after Carolina center Riley Nash was penalized for tripping. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman sent the puck into the boards and Ward went to play it, but the puck took a strange bounce and landed in the crease, where Kucherov sent it into the net.

“Some bounces we’ve gotten this year we haven’t gotten in the last couple of games,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But as a true believer you just keep working and keep pounding away and eventually you’ll get the breaks. We got two tonight and needed both of them.”

Before the unlucky bounce, Ward (25 saves) turned away the Lightning on several scoring opportunities.

In the second period, Lightning center Steven Stamkos hit the post on a power play, and in the same sequence Ward stopped a wrist shot by Ryan Callahan on a 2-on-1 and recovered to get a glove save on the follow-up by Valtteri Filppula.

“Feel kind of bad for him because he played a great game,” Stamkos said of Ward. “[Nabokov] played a great game too, and their goal bounced off of [Lightning defenseman Victor] Hedman. Three goals that weren’t very pretty but we were on the fortunate side to get two of them. It’s easy to get frustrated, but we’re getting the chances and eventually they are going to go in.”

Carolina had two power plays in the first period but could not find ways to generate clean scoring opportunities.

“We just have to go to [Philadelphia] now, obviously looking to pick up a win any way we can,” Hainsey said. “We need to do a lot of the same things that we’re doing but be more opportunistic when we get the chance.”

Nabokov (29 saves) came up big on Carolina’s power play late in the third period when he made a save on a slap shot by Victor Rask and stopped a wrist shot from the slot by Nash as the power play expired.

“We had to get these two points, especially before we go on a long road trip,” Nabokov said. “You want to feel good about yourself and this was important. October and November games are over so it gets ugly at times. But you stick to the system.”

Stamkos said it was important for the Lightning to hold tight to give Nabokov the win because they will need Ben Bishop's backup again on their upcoming five-game road trip.

“He’s an unbelievable teammate,” Stamkos said of Nabokov. “He works extremely hard in practice. Tonight was hopefully a game that can give him some confidence because he’s played some really good hockey games and some of them he hasn’t won because we were not able to score. It was nice to get some bounces for him.”

Tampa Bay will start their road trip against the Washington Capitals on Saturday. The Hurricanes will try to snap their losing streak Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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