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 overall and first since netting against Detroit in the season's second game on Oct. 14.
In Kucherov's third game back from an upper-body injury, his wrister 27 seconds into the second made it 3-0.
The right wing 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.
Anthony Cirelli had a goal and an assist, Ondrej Palat scored and Alex Killorn dished out three helpers and Victor Hedman had two.
Left wing Vinnie Hinostroza found the net, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen surrendered two goals on nine shots for the Sabres, who lost their sixth straight game (0-4-2) and are 2-8-1 in their past 11.
Malcolm Subban (22 saves) replaced Luukkonen to start the second period.
Leading scorer Tage Thompson - a 12-goal producer -- missed the match for short-handed Buffalo after being placed in COVID protocol.
Right wing Jack Quinn made his NHL debut skating on a line with Hinostroza and center Dylan Cozens.
After having their third COVID-related game postponed 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, Tampa Bay turned to its second-leading goal scorer Palat, who 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 with his 10th on a sweet breakout started by Killorn.
After Kucherov's two markers, Stamkos rang 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 clinched his hat trick.
-Field Level Media