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Kucherov scores 3, Lightning beat Bruins 6-3

March 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston, Thursday, March 23, 2107. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston, Thursday, March 23, 2107. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

BOSTON (AP) — Nikita Kucherov helped the Tampa Bay Lightning get a big win in the playoff push.

Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over Boston on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning’s three-game losing streak and helping them pull three points behind the Bruins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s huge,” Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin said. “We didn’t have room for error tonight, but we can’t be too high on ourselves.”

Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored for the Lightning. Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11.

“You’ve got to be in the present,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “A lot of the guys weren’t here the last few years and you have to worry about what we can do and what we can control.”

Over the last three seasons, March 15 has marked the beginning of the end for the Bruins.

During the 2014-15 season, Boston dropped six straight starting on the 15th and missed the playoffs. In the following season, that date kicked off a five-game losing streak as the Bruins dropped nine of their last 12 to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Since March 15 this year, the Bruins have dropped four straight and as a result, are barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the East.

“It’s kind of getting old, you know, adversity and stuff like that,” Bruins forward David Krejci said. “We have a different team this year and no one cares what happened last year so you just have to go out there with desperation.”

Riley Nash had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as After a scoreless first period, both teams alternated scoring three times in the second with the Lightning responding to Boston goals 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1:35 later, respectively.

“It’s nice that we found a way to come back three times and close the game out in the third,” Kucherov said. “We come out and play our best each game and sometimes the puck goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Nash gave Boston a 3-2 lead with 6:42 left in the middle period, but Stralman roofed a shot over Rask’s left shoulder to tie it with 5:07 remaining.

“We need to re-educate ourselves and learn how to get back to our winning ways,” Bruins forward David Backes said. “When you string losses together, you lose your recollection of what was happening when things were going right.”

Drouin put Tampa Bay ahead for good when his slap shot beat Rask at 4:12 of the third. Kucherov followed with two goals, including his second on the power play and an empty-netter with 1:57 remaining to cap the scoring.

Kucherov now has 16 goals and 11 assists in the last 15 games, most in the NHL since Feb. 21.

NOTES: Tampa Bay avoided a season-sweep by the Bruins. ... Bergeron has one goal in his last 12 games. ... The Lightning have won four straight on the road and are 7-1-3 in their last 11. ... Bruins F Brad Marchand has gone three straight without a goal but is still second overall in the NHL with 37.

UP NEXT

Lightning: At Detroit on Friday night.

Bruins: At the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

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