TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning have streaked to 50 wins like just one other team in NHL history.
They’re looking for plenty more victories this season.
NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist to help the Lightning earn their 50th victory of the season in their 66th game by beating the Ottawa Senators 5-1 on Saturday night and tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings as the fastest teams in league history to reach the mark.
“As we’ve been winning here, I don’t know if we’re fully aware all the time,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “A lot of these things I find out in the media scrums.
“Our senior advisor (Steve Yzerman) was on that (Red Wings) team, so it’s probably good we didn’t break that record. We just tied it.”
Tampa Bay remains on pace to challenge the record of 62 wins, also set by that same Red Wings team, and could challenge that Detroit team along with the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens as the only two teams to reach 130 points in a season.
“Years from now we might look back on that,” Cooper said, “but you know what the guys want and what they are playing for.”
The Lightning also got goals from four different defensemen — Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev — and set a franchise record with nine points overall from the defense.
“You think they’re going to create,” Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan said, “and when they got their defensemen into the cycle, there were times when it looked overwhelming for us.”
Kucherov reached 75 assists to become the first player since Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin in 2010-11 to record at least that many in a season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 shots for his 30th victory.
Anthony Duclair scored the lone goal for the Senators, who lost their seventh consecutive game a day after firing coach Guy Boucher and replacing him with Marc Crawford on an interim basis. Craig Anderson finished with 29 saves.
“I didn’t like the number of puck battles we lost tonight,” Crawford said. “The NHL is a league that if you win puck battles, you win the game and they were so far ahead of us in terms of their ability to win puck battles. It isn’t all about skill, it’s about commitment.”
Tampa Bay scored three consecutive goals to pull away in the final two periods.
Second-period goals from Cernak and Kucherov, followed by Sergachev’s goal 1:59 in to the third period put the game out of reach as Tampa Bay reached 50 victories for the second consecutive season and third time in franchise history.
Hedman’s ninth of the season off a rebound put Tampa Bay in front 1-0 at 7:17 of the first period.
McDonagh made it 2-0 at 8:51 as Erik Cernak cut down the right boards off a drop pass from Kucherov and found McDonagh on a cross-seam pass to the slot for his seventh of the season.
Ottawa answered that 37 seconds later on Duclair’s 13th of the season, his second in four games since being acquired from Columbus before the trade deadline.
Cernak came off the bench to take a pass from Killorn in the right circle to snap a shot past Anderson at 3:15 of the second period for his third of the season.
Kucherov scored his 31st of the season on a long-range wrist shot from the left circle at 15:27, while Sergachev scored his fifth of the season off a one-timer from a pass by Braydon Coburn.
Tampa Bay has lost consecutive games in regulation only once this season, which came Nov. 9-12. After dropping a game to Boston on Thursday, that stretch remains intact.
“We definitely needed to find a way to find a win tonight,” McDonagh said. “You never want to let things snowball or get to a negative slide into our game. We have a lot of experience and good leaders in here to where we wanted to make a stand here at home and it’s a great sign.”
NOTES: Tampa Bay scratched RW Ryan Callahan, D Anton Stralman and C Danick Martel. ... Kucherov recorded his 31st multi-point game of the season. ... Ottawa scratched D Christian Wolanin. ... The Senators allowed five or more goals in a game for the 22nd time this season. ... Tampa Bay G Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped Bobby Ryan on a second-period penalty shot attempt.
Lightning: Host Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
Senators: at Florida on Sunday.
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