With 61 points heading into Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning are just ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings in securing a top-three spot in the Atlantic. And they can pull away from their division rivals with a strong second half of February, but Tampa will maximize those chances if a few players step up and play their best hockey.
Ideally, this run commences now and goes through April, as Toronto could always rebound while the Red Wings look as though they will keep winning. But unfortunately for the Lightning, recent history isn’t on their side as they went 14-14-5 throughout February, March, and April 2023.
So who must step up their respective games starting now if the Lightning plan on creating space between themselves and Detroit, and Toronto?
Nikita Kucherov must keep up yet another MVP-like performance
Not every great hockey team is lucky enough to boast an MVP-type of player, but the Lightning fortunately have one in Nikita Kucherov. The 30-year-old’s 89 points aren’t just the best on the Lightning; they’re also pacing the league. Therefore, Tampa Bay has the best overall points-producing asset at the moment, and Kucherov can’t afford to slow down at such a pivotal time.
Better yet, he’s not a situational player, evidenced by the 38 points he has already scored on the power play. Overall for Kucherov, he just needs to keep being the playmaker he’s been all season, and if he keeps up his current run, there may be another Hart Trophy waiting for him once this season is over with.
But Kucherov doesn’t just make plays happen; he’s also put teammates in better respective positions to score, too. We know this because in all situations, the Lightning have scored 112 goals and they have an incredible 19.7 shooting percentage when Kucherov is on the ice. In short, either he’s making a play, or helping to make sure someone else is.