Nikita Kucherov is playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Friday (NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The forward sustained an undisclosed injury early in the first period of Game 6 on Wednesday and left the game.
The Islanders won 3-2 in overtime to extend the best-of-7 series. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final to play the Montreal Canadiens, who defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in their semifinal.
Kucherov led the postseason with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 17 games after he missed the entire 56-game regular season recovering from hip surgery he had Dec. 29, 2020.
“There’s no replacing ‘Kuch,'” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said following Game 6. “He’s had an unbelievable playoffs for us. He’s so lethal out there offensively, on the power play.”
Defenseman Erik Cernak is playing after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury.
Cooper was asked about the Lightning possibly using 11 forwards and seven defensemen, as they did for three games against the Florida Panthers in the first round.
“It’s a good question,” Cooper said. “The Islanders are a fairly consistent four-line team. We’ve kind of been like that. We notoriously can go 11 and 7. I don’t know if that is the feel in this game. There’s so much in the balance right now, but if we have the ability to go four lines we’d like to.”
Kucherov left Game 6 after his first shift, 2:22 into the first period. He appeared to jam his right arm or shoulder checking Islanders center Mathew Barzal. He struggled to finish the shift and went to the locker room with a Lightning trainer at the stoppage in play.
Kucherov also was cross-checked from behind by New York defenseman Scott Mayfield earlier in the shift, which lasted 46 seconds. No penalty was called. Kucherov fell to the ice and got up slowly before rejoining the play.
“Everyone knows how important Kuch is to our team, you see the numbers he’s putting up in these playoffs, you see what he does on the ice,” Tampa Bay forward Barclay Goodrow said Thursday. “If he’s not able to play it’s going to take everyone to give a little bit more to try to fill that void. Obviously, we’re hoping he plays, but if he doesn’t, it’s going to take a little bit more from everyone in the lineup to try to replace a guy like that.”
The Lightning were 0-for-2 on the power play without Kucherov in Game 6. He led the playoffs with 17 power-play points (four goals, 13 assists). Tampa Bay was 20-for-51 (39.2 percent) on the power play entering Game 6.
The Lightning used the same group of 12 forwards since Game 6 of the first round against the Panthers, when Goodrow returned from an upper-body injury. They played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Games 2, 4 and 5 against the Panthers.
Mathieu Joseph is the only other forward Tampa Bay used in the playoffs, playing Games 1 and 3 against Florida.
Kucherov led the 2020 playoffs with 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 games, helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.