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All-Star Game

Kucherov makes All-Star Game memorable for Lightning fans

Forward gets hat trick on home ice

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

TAMPA -- This kind of play, this kind of moment, was why we watched the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

Nikita Kucherov skated across the blue line, took a pass from Steven Stamkos and broke in alone on goaltender Braden Holtby. A left-handed shot, Kucherov squared to Holtby, then deked left.

But instead of pulling the puck onto his backhand, he let it slide forward, a fake fake, a changeup. As Holtby moved across his crease, he opened his pads. The puck slid between them and across the line, almost in slow motion.

 

[RELATED: Sneaky Kucherov pulls incredible fake to complete hat trick | All-Star Game coverage]

 

It was Kucherov's third goal for the Atlantic Division against the Metropolitan in the second semifinal of the 3-on-3 tournament, and it came at Amalie Arena, where Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring with 64 points (27 goals, 37 assists) for the top team in the standings, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The fans cheered and tossed hats onto the ice. Some of Kucherov's teammates tossed their helmets too.

Kucherov said when he got the puck in that position, he thought he "might as well do it."

"He's not a guy that is trying to show up anybody; he's trying to put on a show for his fans," Holtby said. "I respect that. If you are able to do that, tip your hat to him. I wasn't not trying on that; I was trying to stop him. That is a high-skill move."

Video: Kucherov dazzles with hat trick in All-Star Game

The Pacific players were watching on television in their locker room, scouting the competition after defeating the Central 5-2 in the first semi. They saw the Atlantic defeat the Metro 7-4, then defeated the Atlantic in the final 5-2.

"I could never pull off that move," said Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, the 20-year-old rookie who had two goals and an assist in the tournament and was named most valuable player. "We all kind of screamed about it."

Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith said, "I was lying on the floor trying to take a nap, and then he did that, and I couldn't sleep anymore. I was having nightmares."

The All-Star Game does not have the intensity of the regular season, let alone the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It never will. It shouldn't.

The point is to celebrate the NHL, and the 3-on-3 tournament, the format the past three years, has been a player- and crowd-pleaser. There is space to showcase speed and skill, freedom to have fun. At the same time, there is no place to hide. Coast, and you're toast. Blink, and you might miss a highlight.

"It definitely gets the legs moving, that's for sure," said Stamkos, captain of the Lightning and the Atlantic. "Guys have a little feel-out process the first couple shifts, and then the competitive juices kick in. I thought it was great."

We had Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid fly past Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, only to have Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinna somehow keep the puck out of the net.

We had a tic-tac-toe goal -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns to McDavid to Vegas Golden Knights left wing James Neal.

We had Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin assist on a goal by Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, his longtime rival, and then Crosby assist one by Ovechkin.

We had New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stop Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews on a breakaway, Ovechkin go all-out on a backcheck to foil a rush by Stamkos, Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel set up Kucherov with a behind-the-back pass in front.

Video: Nikita Kucherov on his hat trick in the All-Star Game

We had New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle do an interview after the second semifinal, only to have the fans drown out his answers by chanting his name. He had played for the Lightning from 2014-17, and he was here even though he had chronic myeloid leukemia and his son, Declan, 2, was in the hospital with an arteriovenous malformation in his jaw.

"Thank you so much," Boyle told the crowd.

Roar.

We had Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stop McDavid on a breakaway, twice; Stamkos strike iron, twice; Smith trying to score in to an empty net, twice.

Where else can you see all that? How often do you see a play like Kucherov's third goal?

Kucherov once used that move to score in a shootout, but in a shootout, you have time to plan, time to think. This was in the flow of a game, but it wasn't a normal game. It was the NHL All-Star Game, in Tampa.

"That's what it's all about," said Stamkos, captain of the Lightning and the Atlantic. "You want to put on a show for the fans, and obviously they're cheering for the home guys. So for Kuch to go out there and get the hat trick in the first game and see the response from the fans, that probably just made it worth it in itself for everyone that came out. It was so special, and this is one that we're going to remember for the rest of our careers."

-- NHL.com's Corey Long, Bill Price and Shawn P. Roarke contributed to this story

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