The NHL Department of Player Safety announced today that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov has been suspended for one game following his hit on Markus Nutivaara late in game two of the first round playoff series between the Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nikita Kucherov has been suspended for Game 3 in Columbus.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 13, 2019
Kucherov threw the hit late in the game out of frustration likely over his team’s poor play and having just been called for a penalty. He argued with the officials multiple times during the game and was obviously losing his composure as the game progressed. That led to him throwing a reckless hit on a player in a dangerous position. The hit was bad. The decision to throw it was probably even worse.
Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov has been suspended for one game for Boarding Columbus’ Markus Nutivaara. https://t.co/VcQW77cQd1— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) April 13, 2019
Kucherov’s suspension leaves the Lightning without their best player for game three and forces them to try to climb back into this series shorthanded. For a player who is supposed to be a team leader, he put his team in a terrible position at their most vulnerable point of the season. His inability to control himself on the ice means he won’t be available to help his teammates overcome their biggest challenge so far this year.
His absence likely means Ryan Callahan will draw into the lineup on the fourth line. Expect Mathieu Joseph to bump up to the third line and J.T. Miller to bump up to the top six. Given how poorly the team played in the last game, head coach Jon Cooper might use this opportunity to mix up the lines even more.
After scoring 128 points this season, Kucherov established himself as one of the best players in the league finally getting the international recognition he’s deserved for several years now. This playoff run following an historically great regular season for both he and his team was supposed to be his next big step into the spotlight. Instead, his team will take the ice on Sunday desperate for a win while he watches from the press box.
For both Kucherov and the Lightning, this is the worst case scenario. Down 2-0, going on the road, lacking their best player. Following a season that was mostly unicorns and rainbows, things have suddenly gotten dark.
But even with this news, the coffin isn’t buried yet. Kucherov isn’t the only player on the team. The rest of the skaters and Andrei Vasilevskiy will need to compensate for his absence and drag the team back into this series. If they can do that, Kuch will get his shot at redemption in game four with a chance to atone for his mistake and help even the series. Otherwise, his return might be too little too late.