Saturday's NHL playoffs: Nikita Kucherov paces Lightning's 6-2 rout of Panthers

Associated Press

Tampa, Fla. — The sight of Nikita Kucherov crumpled to the ice in pain left a sour taste in the mouths of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The reigning Stanley Cup champions beat the Florida Panthers 6-2 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round postseason matchup on Saturday, with Kucherov continuing to sparkle after missing the entire regular season while recovering from hip surgery.

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrates his goal in front of Florida Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour (62) during the second period in Game 4.

Coach Jon Cooper and Kucherov's teammates understandably were alarmed when the Tampa Bay star went down after being slashed by Florida's Anthony Duclair with the Panthers trailing by four goals midway through the third period.

“The hockey game ended halfway through the second period, then it turned into something else,” Cooper said after a penalty-filled afternoon that saw Florida finish with 13 penalties for 50 minutes and Tampa Bay 13 for 42 minutes.

“Not much there for me," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the slashing call on Duclair. "I hope he’s all right.”

Kucherov had a goal and three assists.. Alex Killorn scored a pair of second-period goals and notched two assists, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 39 of 41 shots for the Lightning, who can wrap up the best-of-seven series by winning Game 5 in Sunrise, Florida, on Monday night.

Kucherov remained on the bench for a short time, but did not return to the game. Defenseman Mikhail Sergachez was also shaken up by a late hit.

Cooper would not discuss the injuries.

“Nothing. Next question,” the coach said.

“It's tough. You never want to see a guy go down on the ice and stay there,” forward Yanni Gourde said.

“And if one of our guys stays down,” Killorn offered, “he's hurt.”

The Lightning pushed their intrastate rivals to the brink of elimination by scoring three first-period goals, then building their advantage to 5-1 when Killorn beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky twice in a span of 94 seconds to break the game open.

Gourde, Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat got Tampa Bay off to a fast start with a trio of goals that signaled it was going to be a rough afternoon for Bobrovsky, who earned his second start of the series by coming off the bench to win Game 3 in relief.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period and overtime as the Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit to tighten the series with a 6-5 victory on Thursday night.

The Lightning scored on three of seven shots in the first period Saturday. The Panthers replaced Bobrovsky with Chris Driedger after Killorn scored on the power play and added another goal off a pass from Steven Stamkos to increase the lead to 5-1.

“It’s 3-1 after one and then they score early and they scored the fifth goal," Quenneville said of the move to Dreidger. "Just trying to do something different was definitely the thought process on that, slow their momentum down maybe and get some excitement, but at that time a four-goal lead is rather large.”

Jonathan Huberdeau and Carter Verhaeghe had power-play goals for Florida.

Kucherov has three goals and six assists in four playoff games after missing the regular season while recovering from hip surgery performed on Dec. 29. He and Stamkos, who had two assists Saturday, have at least one point in each game of the series.

“It's amazing what he's been able to do the last four games, especially coming back from injury,” Gourde said of Kucherov.

The Lightning ended a four-game home losing streak in the playoffs with their first postseason win at Amalie Arena since Game 5 of the 2018 Eastern Conference final against the Washington Capitals.

“We came here to win a hockey game and we did,” Cooper said.

“We have better in us, we know that. .... We have to better with our emotions and not getting caught up with the antics that are going on in the game," the Tampa Bay coach added. "We can be more physical, we can be a better hockey team. But I like where we’re sitting at in the series, and believe me we’ll be bringing it two nights from now.”

More NHL playoffs

Islanders 4, Penguins 1: Ilya Sorokin stopped 29 shots, Oliver Wahlstrom and Ryan Pulock each had a goal and an assist and the New York Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in Game 4 Saturday to even the first-round series.

Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle also scored for New York. Sorokin, who had 39 saves in the Islanders' 4-3 win in Game 1, was back in goal after Semyon Varlamov started Games 2 and 3 — both losses.

Tristan Jarry had 23 saves for Pittsburgh, and drew mocking chants of “Jar-ry! Jar-ry!” from Islanders fans.

Game 5 is Monday night in Pittsburgh, and Game 6 back at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday.

Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 1: Auston Matthews broke a tie early in the second period and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in Game 2 on Saturday night to even the first-round playoff series.

Matthews also had assists, William Nylander added goal and an assist, and Jason Spezza, Rasmus Sandin and Alexander Kerfoot, into an empty net, also scored. Jack Campbell stopped 22 shots, and Mitch Marner had two assists.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored for Montreal, and Carey Price stopped 29 shots.

The best-of-seven matchup between the Original Six rivals shifts to the Bell Centre for games Monday and Tuesday nights. The Canadiens won the opener 2-1.

The Maple Leafs were without captain John Tavares after he sustained a concussion and knee injury on a scary collision 10 minutes into Game 1.

Toronto took its first lead of the series at 5:15 of the second period when Matthews — the NHL goals champion this season with 41 in 52 regular-season games — buried Justin Holl's rebound on an odd-man rush to make it 2-1.

Golden Knights 4, Wild 0: The stars are scoring for the Vegas Golden Knights, all four lines are producing, and the goaltending has been superb.

That's how to take control of a playoff series.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves for his 16th career postseason shutout, Nicolas Roy scored twice and the Golden Knights beat Minnesota 4-0 in Game 4 on Saturday night to shove the Wild to the verge of elimination.

Alex Tuch and Mark Stone each got their third goal of the series and Keegan Kolesar had two assists for the Golden Knights, who have nine unanswered goals and lead 3-1 in the first-round, best-of-seven matchup. They get Game 5 at home on Monday night.