Nikita Kucherov’s Record Amplified Auston Matthews’ Failure

Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Getty Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Two season-long record chases by two different men came down to the final day and a matchup against each other. In fairness, the NHL couldn’t have scripted it better.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs played each other on Wednesday, April 17, without anything on the line other than individual accolades at an arm’s reach of Nikita Kucherov (100 assists) and Auston Matthews (70 goals).

One got there. The other one… did not.

Kucherov became the fifth player to have a 100-assist season as the Lightning beat the Leafs 6–4 on Wednesday night at Malie Arena. The winger also scored a goal in the first period and then found Brayden Point in a power-play with 2:55 left in the second for his 100th assist.

“It’s a special moment,” Kucherov told reporters after the game, via “Thanks to my teammates and coaching staff for putting me in position to have success. I’m fortunate to play with great players.”

This unique accomplishment, however, came just two days after Connor McDavid reached the 100-assist plateau with the Edmonton Oilers, diminishing both men’s achievements if only a tiny bit and making them a little less unique.

Auston Matthews Can’t Score 70 Goals, Finishes With 69

On the other end of the rink Wednesday, there was a Leafs center cashing another piece of history: becoming the first player to score 70 goals since Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each scored 76 in 1992-93, and just the ninth player to ever reach the 70-goal figure.

It didn’t come to happen for Matthews, who failed to score a single goal against the Lightning and will have to conform with having 69 on the season.

Matthews will win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with a league-high 69 goals. That being said, not even a game-high 12 shots on goal on 16 total attempts were enough for him to make the put kiss the net on the final game of the season for him and the Leafs.

“I wanted it, for sure,” Matthews told reporters after the game on April 17. “But it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Matthews’ 69 goals are the most since Mario Lemieux finished with the same tally in 1995-96.

As documented by Heavy’s Cole Shelton, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was a little bit worried about the 70-goal chase creating “a major distraction” around the team, saying it “doesn’t help us, what we’re trying to accomplish.”

After Matthews failed to score his 70th goal on Wednesday, Keefe spoke to media members and said something that could be related to the attention the goalscoring record chase has generated of late.

“I couldn’t tell you the score in any of those (past) games, including the one that just finished,” Keefe told reporters as his team enters the postseason riding a four-game losing streak.

Will Nikita Kucherov Win the Hart Trophy as the MVP of the Season?

After scoring a goal and assisting another one, Kucherov closed the season with 144 total points in 81 games played. He leads the NHL in assists along with McDavid, both tied at 100 each, and he ranks 10th in goals scored with 44.

Matthews is the top goalscorer in the NHL this season but he only has 38 assists and barely 100 points with 107 during the full regular season.

Back to McDavid, the Oilers franchise player has scored 32 goals in 76 games for a total of 132 points.

The only main contender for the Hart Trophy award given to the Most Valuable Player of the season, by the looks of it, is Colorado Avalanche’s center Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon has completed an extraordinary season to date, scoring 51 goals and 87 assists for 138 points, only trailing Kucherov in the latter category.

McDavid and MacKinnon play against each other on April 18 in the season finale for both of their teams.

On Wednesday, April 17, Greg Wyshynski of ESPN made his case for Kucherov as the MVP of the 2024 season.

“Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning deserves to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player this season,” Wyshynski stated.

Right after writing that, however, he acknowledged that “The beautiful thing about making that kind of declarative statement about the 2023-24 MVP race (is that this) might be the most ‘no wrong answers’ Hart Trophy debate in recent memory.”

The three finalists for the Hart Trophy award are expected to be unveiled by the NHL in early May, with the winners announced in June once the Stanley Cup playoffs finish and before the draft if the league goes by last year’s calendar.

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