While the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to secure the win against the Colorado Avalanche in Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final, it may have been a Pyrrhic victory for the defending champions. In the third period, winger Nikita Kucherov was checked awkwardly to the ice by Devon Toews.
Nikita Kucherov to the locker room after this cross-check by Devon Toews pic.twitter.com/oiDl3cjKRO— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 21, 2022
Kucherov started the ensuing power play, but after taking a one-timer left the ice and headed into the locker room. He did not return for the rest of the game.
On Tuesday, Coach Jon Cooper spoke with the media and was asked about the status of the all-world player. While he was optimistic about his return, it’s not a 100% guarantee.
Jon Cooper on if he thinks Kucherov will play in Game 4: “Yes. I think so. I hope so. It's always difficult when the game was literally 12 hours ago…so a lot can happen in the next two days. Am I glad we have off in between games? Yes. We will see how he is tomorrow”— Gabby Shirley (@Gabby_Shirley_) June 21, 2022
Kucherov will likely be evaluated again tomorrow and it will be a true game-time decision. If he isn’t able to make it into the game, there will be a large hole to fill for the team as he is one of the top offensive producers on the team having posted more than 25 points in the last three playoffs, becoming only the third player in NHL history to accomplish that feat.
He has 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists) in 20 games this year after recording 2 assists in the victory on Monday. The Lightning will have to dig deep into the roster if Kucherov can’t go, with Alex Barre-Boulet making his postseason debut or Cole Koepke making his NHL debut. Remi Elie is also a possibility as he has 107 games of regular season NHL experience (mostly with the Dallas Stars) and could slot in on the fourth line with Corey Perry bumping up to take Kucherov’s spot.
Coach Cooper also has the option of reverting back to an 11/7 line-up and re-inserting Cal Foote into the rotation (and the possibility of having a defenseman like Zach Bogosian take some shifts at forward). The drawback to that plan is that the Lightning will lose some mobility with Foote back in the game.
Even if Kucherov does return, the Lightning will likely still be short offensively as Coach Cooper was less optimistic about the return of Brayden Point, who missed Game Three.
Cooper on the status of Point: “The status of Pointer is day to day. It’s probably the best I can give you. I highly doubt, he is doubtful for tomorrow”— Gabby Shirley (@Gabby_Shirley_) June 21, 2022
It isn’t clear on if Point is dealing with a new injury or if he re-aggravated the lower-body injury suffered in Game Seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Complicating matters is the status of Nick Paul. He also suffered an apparent lower-body injury from a crosscheck by Josh Manson. Paul did return to the game (and scored) but was in obvious discomfort skating up and down the ice without his usual jump. If there are any setbacks for him over the next 24 hours, things get really interesting.
Keeping pace with the Avalanche is hard enough (especially if they get Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky back for Game Four) with a full line-up, doing so without two key parts of the top six is even tougher.
Stay tuned for any updates that come around.