Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is having the kind of season that should yield a number of awards, while the Eastern Conference powerhouse club has its eyes on the biggest prizes.
Winners of five straight and seven of its last nine, Tampa Bay (44-11-4) opens a two-game road trip when it plays at the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Monday night.
The Lightning, wearing their recently unveiled third uniform on Saturday night, beat Montreal for the third time this season and look to do the same to Columbus. The Lightning have won the first two of the three-game season series against the Blue Jackets by a combined score of 12-2 -- 8-2 on Oct. 13 and 4-0 on Jan. 8.
The Lightning dominated both of those home wins, and Kucherov netted goals in each game. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who recorded his sixth shutout this season in the 3-0 win over the Canadiens, won both starts against the Blue Jackets, stopping 61 of 63 shots.
Kucherov, the NHL's leading scorer, is a decent bet to win the Art Ross Trophy and unseat Edmonton's Connor McDavid as the best scorer, and he is a strong candidate to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP. The 25-year-old had a goal and an assist in the win over Montreal to finish a three-game homestand.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is the favorite to capture the President's Trophy as the NHL's top club. The team's longest losing streak is only two games long, and that's happened just twice, in November and February.
Much of that is due to the incredible offensive output by Kucherov, who tops the NHL with 94 points on 27 goals and a league-high 67 assists.
Kucherov, who authored a five-point game in Edmonton on Dec. 22, has been a multi-point master. He also owns five four-point games, eight three-point outings and 13 two-point efforts.
"I mean, we sit here and like we said, we're not worried about Kuch when he goes through a little slump -- and a slump for him is a point-a-game maybe," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has the locker next to Kucherov. "It's amazing. When he's feeling it, it's so much fun to watch."
Columbus (33-21-3) left Chicago late Saturday with a 5-2 win after strong performances by winger Artemi Panarin (two goals, assist) and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (39 saves) -- two of the hottest trade targets as the league's trade deadline nears.
The top line of Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson notched four of the team's five goals. Panarin and Dubois finished plus-4, while Atkinson was plus-3. The Blue Jackets won for the fifth time in six games, including four straight road wins.
"We needed to rebound here, and we did," said Columbus coach John Tortorella, whose team was shut out 3-0 at home by the New York Islanders on Thursday. "I really liked the way we bounced back in the third period. The top line did some damage, but everyone contributed."