Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov recorded his fourth career hat trick -- his first goals since October -- as the Lightning pounded the host Buffalo Sabres 6-1 on Tuesday night.
Following a 32-game absence due to an upper-body injury, Kucherov tallied twice in the second period -- his second and third goals of the season and first since netting against the Detroit Red Wings in the campaign's second game on Oct. 14.
In Kucherov's third game back from an lower-body injury, his wrister 27 seconds into the second period made it 3-0.
The right winger added another tally 10 minutes later and finished his three-goal night at 13:57 of the third.
It was his first hat trick since March 23, 2017, in Boston.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (20-6-3) stopped 17 shots to post his sixth consecutive 20-win campaign. He improved his career mark against Buffalo to 12-1-1.
Steven Stamkos notched a goal and two assists for the Lightning, who are 7-3-1 in their past 11 games and have won eight of their past nine against Buffalo.
Tampa Bay's Anthony Cirelli had a goal and an assist, Ondrej Palat scored, Alex Killorn dished out three helpers and Victor Hedman had two.
Vinnie Hinostroza found the net for the Sabres, who lost their sixth straight game (0-4-2) and are 2-9-4 in their past 15. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen surrendered two goals on nine shots before Malcolm Subban (23 saves on 27 shots) replaced him to start the second period.
Tage Thompson, who leads Buffalo with 12 goals, sat out after being placed in COVID protocol. Jack Quinn, 20, made his NHL debut skating on a line with Hinostroza and Dylan Cozens.
After having their third COVID-related postponement Monday in New Jersey, the Lightning took it to the Sabres, who won the first meeting 5-1 in Buffalo on Oct. 25.
Just 2:16 into the first period, Palat took a flipped pass from Hedman and popped in his 15th marker from the slot.
Recently returned to the lineup after being in COVID protocol, Cirelli pushed the lead to 2-0 at 10:45 of the first with his 10th on a sweet breakout started by Killorn.
After Kucherov's two markers, Stamkos took a shot that bounced in off the right post for his team-leading 17th goal at 14:04 in the three-goal second frame.
Hinostroza's putback in the third broke up Vasilevskiy's shutout bid before Kucherov completed his hat trick.
--Field Level Media