TAMPA, Fla. - Nikita Kucherov, successful member of the Lightning's Triplets line and Game 3 overtime hero Wednesday night, was more concerned with having let Dan Boyle free for the tying goal at 18:04 of the third period than with his winner at 3:33 of OT.
"They scored the fifth goal because of my mistake, it's a bad mistake there," Kucherov said after giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 series lead. "I need to work on it, learn from it, don't do those mistakes again."
Kucherov can be forgiven for a defensive lapse, given that he and his wondrous young linemates have driven this Lightning bus to within two victories of a Stanley Cup Final.
Kucherov, 21, has seven goals this postseason; Tyler Johnson, 24, scored his playoff-leading 12th goal in the second period of Game 3, and Ondrej Palat, 24, had a pair of goals in Game 3, including what looked to be the winner with 5:55 left in the third.
"He's just a skilled player," Palat said of Kucherov, who had the double-OT winner to beat the Canadiens in Game 1 of the previous round.
Ironically, Palat discussed Kucherov's learning process in his own end as a big reason why Kucherov has gotten a chance to play such a big role this postseason. The young winger had a decent rookie season in 2013-14, with nine goals in 52 games, but played in just two of the team's four playoff games as coach Jon Cooper wanted to see more from Kucherov at both ends of the ice.
"He learned how to play defense," Palat said. "The league is too good to just play one side of the puck. It was huge for him."
Kucherov had 29 goals and 36 assists this season and his roll has continued in the playoffs. He was held without a goal in the Lightning's seven-game series win over the Red Wings in the opening round, but he was a force from the start of the Canadiens series, finishing it with six goals in six games.
He had three assists in the Lightning's lopsided Game 2 win over the Rangers, setting up all three of Johnson's goals. Wednesday night, after his linemates had gotten their share in regulation, Kucherov surprised Henrik Lundqvist with a long wrist shot that went through Ryan McDonagh and behind the Rangers goaltender on an innocent-looking one-on-three as Tampa Bay changed the rest of its skaters.
"I just took a shot, I didn't even know where it went," Kucherov said. "I was trying to get the puck deep. I didn't realize it went in until I saw the fans celebrating."
There was plenty to celebrate in Game 3 thanks to another offensive outburst from the Lightning, led by its best line.
Even with a key mistake at the other end mixed in.
"You could see those guys were disappointed, being on the ice for the tying goal," Steven Stamkos said. "They've been arguably the best line in the playoffs and they came through again."