How Nikita Kucherov's Season Mirrors Joe Thornton's First With Sharks

On the same night Joe Thornton passed Steve Yzerman on the NHL's all-time assists list, one of the Sharks center's own records fell. 

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov tallied his 126th point (40 goals, 86 assists) of the season with an empty-net goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, and surpassed Thornton's mark from 2005-06 as the most in a season during the NHL's salary-cap era. 

Thornton scored 125 points in the first year after the NHL lockout that wiped away the entirety of the 2004-05 season. He scored 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 23 games with the Boston Bruins, then exploded for 92 (20 goals, 72 assists) in 58 games after a December trade to San Jose. The center found instant chemistry with right winger Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored 49 of his league-leading 56 goals after Thornton's arrival. 

The elimination of the two-line pass and enforcement of penalties that went uncalled in the "clutch-and-grab" era led to an offensive explosion that season, as teams scored averaged 3.08 goals per game. That was the highest since 1995-96, and Thornton rode the wave to an Art Ross Trophy.

He also won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. The Sharks were just 8-12-4 before trading for Thornton, and sat second-to-last in the Western Conference. After his arrival, San Jose rattled off a 36-15-7 run, and their 79 points over that span tied for second in the NHL.

[RELATED: Many questions remain ahead of Sharks' regular-season finale]

Kucherov has benefitted from a similar scoring bump, as teams were averaging 3.01 goals per game entering Friday, the most since 2005-06. But, he has also led the Lightning to a dominant 61-16-4 (126 points) record. Tampa Bay is only the third team in NHL history to win 60-plus games, and can tie the all-time record with a win in its last regular-season game Saturday. 

In other words, Kucherov could continue to follow Thornton's footsteps on the path to an MVP award. 

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