SUNRISE, Fla. (WFLA) – He has not skated in an NHL game since Sept. 28, 2020 when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
He had hip surgery in December and now, less than five months after that repair, Nikita Kucherov is reunited with the sport in the brightest spotlight: the postseason.
“I was excited to get back in a game and being with the boys, I waited for this for a long time,” Kucherov said in a Zoom meeting after the Game 1 win over the Florida Panthers. “Nice to get this one out of the way and focus on the next game.”
Yes, Kucherov admitted he wanted to put the game in his rearview mirror as quickly as possible but his teammates did not have a problem bragging about him.
Kucherov finished the game with two goals and one assist.
“I think it speaks to Kuch’s dedication as a hockey player,” said Brayden Point, who also scored two goals in that game. “I have said this before – I do not know if there is anyone who works on their game harder than Kuch does, and to sit out that long and to have a repair and to go through all of that rehab and come out in a very fast, physical game and to perform the way he did, it is incredible.”
Captain Steven Stamkos missed the final 16 games of the regular season, so he is familiar with the process of returning to the ice.
“You can always fall back on your preparation,” he said, “and there is no one more prepared than Kuch. This guy is on the ice all of the time working on his craft and there is a reason why he is one of the best in the world. There is a correlation there.”
Stamkos also mentioned the tendency to try to keep the expectations low.
“He was calm and smiling and laughing, the same old Kuch, and I think he just came in and knew the work he had put in and whatever happened was going to happen,” said Stamkos, “but, when you have a player of that caliber, good things obviously happen because he is that good.”
“His presence,” said Victor Hedman, who assisted both of Kucherov’s goals, “you can tell it gives the whole team a lot of confidence. It is very impressive to see Kuch come out and deliver like that in the first game back and, the scary part is he is only going to get better.”
Hedman is likely correct and, according to Kucherov, he is fully prepared physically for this postseason.
“A new hip is a new hip,” he said. “It is different, way better, and I feel really good.”