TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Lightning proved they could win without Nikita Kucherov, playing the entire regular season without the star forward. But that’s not to say they haven’t really enjoyed having him back for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Kucherov has underscored his value to this Lightning team night in and night out as a driving force that’s guided the Bolts to the brink of winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
He leads the team and the league with 32 points this post-season and has recorded at least one point in 16 of their 21 playoff games. Nine of those have been muli-point games, bringing his career total to 36 multi-point playoff games — good for fourth in the NHL among active players. Beyond his eight goals and 24 assists so far though, head coach Jon Cooper and his teammates know his value goes well beyond the statistics.
“I didn’t realize he had 32 points,” Cooper said. “I just know what he goes out there on a shift-by-shift basis and does for us. I hope people realize his game is more than just playing on the power play. He can dictate plays. He’s out there when we’re protecting a lead. He does so many other things that I think go unnoticed just because of his point totals and some of the magical plays he makes on the offensive end. That’s the part that I marvel at. You can get hooked on just being an offensive star and that might be good enough for some people, but it’s not for (Kucherov). His growth as a player away from the puck, to me, that’s what puts you in the star category. That’s what’s the marveling part for me.”
“He’s an elite player in this league that has that scoring touch that not many guys can say they have,” said Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “He can score in different fashions — power play and five-on-five. I think when he’s on his game he just lets the game come to him and takes what’s given and is just in the right spots. Playing with some great linemates he’s allowed to set them up a lot of times and they can set him up as well. He has a great finishing ability, so for us when he’s making plays out there, it’s a great sign for us.”
The Lightning have their first series-clinching game on Monday in Game 4, looking to be the first team since 1998 to sweep the Stanley Cup Final.