Lightning’s Game 3 win comes at a cost as Nikita Kucherov starts third

Lightning’s Game 3 win comes at a cost as Nikita Kucherov starts third

TAMPA — As Nikita Kucherov slid control of the puck to his right hand and attempted to maneuver around Devon Toews late in the third period Monday at Amalie Arena, the Avalanche defenseman shoved Kucherov out from behind. This sent the Lightning crashing forward, causing his right side to crack against the boards.

For a few moments Kucherov remained on the ice, but he crouched down as he returned to the bench and eventually left the tunnel. The Lightning had already lost Nick Paul a few minutes late in the first period. They had made it without Brayden Point – scratched after returning for the first two games of the series. But when Kucherov didn’t return, the injury became a concern after the Lightning beat the Avalanche 6-2 in Game 3.

“It’s a game, it’s a contact game, but the guys know what they’re doing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said when asked about the hit on Kucherov. “Smart, knowledgeable players know what they’re doing with their stick. And we’ve all seen it.

Cooper did not provide any injured player updates after the game, saying he would have those statuses on Tuesday. Paul’s last shift in the first period ended with an awkward twisting of his leg after a hit along the boards, forcing him off the ice and working with a coach. He exited the tunnel and did not come back into frame.

Paul’s first shift in the second period, however, ended with his arms raised in the air and his chest thrust into the crowd – celebrating his shot that extended the Lightning’s lead to 3-1 less than three minutes after the start of the period. He came back for the first shift from his second line, won the face-off, then delivered a cross pass from Ross Colton into the net.

“I came back, good little change for us, found me in the slot and it ended up going into the back of the net,” Paul said.

Paul said he had no doubts he would return, adding that he “felt good” and “was definitely coming back”. Corey Perry was also rocked at one point following a hit against the boards behind the net, staying back and hitting goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper before skating to the bench and being watched by the coaches.

He eventually came back and scored from the re-inherited power play point with Point out. But with the Lightning lines already in flux with Point’s absence, their first Stanley Cup Final victory came at a cost, especially if Kucherov is running out of time.

“Guys are obviously stoned,” Stamkos said when asked about Paul’s injury, comeback and goal. “Especially at this time of year.”

Maroon’s Offensive Advantage

Pat Maroon had already collected his first point since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he picked up a pass from Kucherov and skated towards the goal line. It came on the Lightning’s first goal, when they tied the Avalanche at 1 before turning it into a three-goal flurry.

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But this time, Maroon found himself with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos – two members of the Lightning’s front line – because of a brutal penalty he had taken two minutes before. Maroon rushed out of the box, maneuvered onto the ice and slid the puck past Kuemper on the short side to give the Lightning a 5-2 lead in the second.

Maroon’s tally forced a goalie change while earning his first multipoint game since Feb. 23 against Edmonton.

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