NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Nikita Kucherov has been leading Tampa Bay all season, so it's no surprise the NHL's top scorer stepped it up this weekend with the Lightning in the midst of a playoff chase.

Following a three-point game Saturday in a win over the New York Islanders, Kucherov had a goal and three assists and became the first player in the league to reach 100 points this season in leading Tampa Bay to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.

“He’s a special, special player and it was never more evident than tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It was fun to watch.”

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 late into an empty net. Jonas Johansson made 18 saves in giving Andrei Vasilevskiy a rare day off.

“We all understand where we’re at and this is crunch time and we need to play that way every single night if we want to get to where we want to get to and that’s the playoffs,” Hagel said. “So if we continue that I have no worry in the world.”

The Devils and coach Lindy Ruff have concerns with 24 games left in the regular season. They have been inconsistent in an injury-filled season and fans started chanting for Ruff to be fired late in the game. They also did it early last season and New Jersey went on a run en route to setting a franchise record for points.

“I take full responsibility. I take full responsibility," said Ruff, who got a new contract earlier this season. “You know, we want to win and we’ve dealt with a lot. Players want to win. I’m responsible for the wins and losses and who gets on the ice and who doesn’t get on the ice.”

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 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 longest in franchise history.

Point extended the lead a little less than three minutes later on 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' pass hit the skate of Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh and went right to Toffoli for a shot into an open net.

Kucherov now has two straight 100-point seasons and four overall.

“He wants to win another Stanley Cup,” Hagel said. “And the way he plays, the work ethic, the forecheck, shows you right there why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

The Lightning won consecutive Stanley Cups in 2020 and '21.


Lightning: At Philadelphia on Tuesday.

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



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