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Devils have no answers for Nikita Kucherov in 4-1 loss to Lightning

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Nikita Kucherov had a goal and three assists and became the first player in the league to reach 100 points this season in leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to a much-needed 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.

Kucherov leads the NHL with 102 points. Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Brandon Hagel were the recipients of Kucherov’s 62nd, 63rd and 64th assists of the season and he added his 38th goal. Jonas Johansson made 18 saves in giving Andrei Vasilevskiy a rare day off.

Tyler Toffoli scored his 25th goal of the season for the Devils, who are 2-9-1 in the second half of back-to-back games. Akira Schmid, who was making his first start since Dec. 21, had 23 saves, but he and the Devils were no match for the Lightning’s top line of Point, Hagel and Kucherov.

After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, Kucherov needed only 4:15 to stake the Lightning to a 2-0 lead, setting up Hedman’s 10th of the season and Point’s 30th.

Hedman, who has been playing significant minutes with the defense banged up, gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead at 1:27, putting in the rebound of Kucherov’s shot. Hagel got an assist on the play, extending his career-long point streak to 13 games, tied for third third-longest in franchise history.

Point extended the lead a little less than three minutes later on a bad-angle shot after being sent in alone on Schmid. The Devils goaltender didn’t give Point a shot, but the center skated around him and then banged the puck off his leg on a shot from below the goal line. It was his fifth goal in six games.

The Devils, who edged Montreal on Saturday, answered with a power-play goal by Toffoli at 6:01. Jack Hughes was making a pass coming out from behind the net and it hit the skate of Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh and went right to Toffoli for a shot into an open net.

Kucherov added an empty-net goal late in the third period to close out the scoring and add the finishing touches on his second straight 100-point season and fourth overall. He had three points Saturday in a win over the Islanders.

UP NEXT

Lightning: At Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Devils: At San Jose Tuesday to open a three-game West Coast trip.