24/09/2020

Nikita Kucherov is setting records for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the postseason. What matters is that the Lightning are three wins from the Stanley Cup after a 3-2 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Nikita Kucherov is setting records for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the postseason.So what?
What matters is that the Lightning are three wins from the Stanley Cup after a 3-2 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.
Not that the forward had two assists to spark a slumping power play.
Not that it was the 25th multipoint game of his career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, breaking Martin St. Louis’ Tampa Bay record of 24.
Not that he has an NHL-leading 28 points (six goals, 22 assists), breaking the Tampa Bay record for a single postseason set by Brad Richards in 2003-04, when he had 12 goals and 14 assists, and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
Game 3 is at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final, on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“It’s cool, being in the history,” he said. “But we didn’t come here to break the records. … We came here to win a Cup, so that’s the main goal we think about. We’re trying to stick to our game plan and play the right way and help the team to win.”
Video: Mike Johnson discusses top players from both squads
Last season, Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring champion, the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and the Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players’ Association.
It meant zero in the playoffs. The Lightning, who won the Presidents’ Trophy with 128 points, fourth in NHL history, were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.
Asked what impressed him about Kucherov in Game 2, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t mention statistics.
“Everybody’s going to look at the wonderful skill plays he makes, but you look at his battle level, you look at when he goes in for 50-50s or 40-60s and still comes out of with the puck, it’s impressive,” Cooper said. “That’s it for me, like, how hard he’s working and those gritty things. … When you’ve got the skill he does and he still does that, it’s pretty impressive.”
Kucherov took a beating early in Game 2. He was knocked to the ice by Stars forward Jamie Benn, took a high stick to the head from Stars forward Mattias Janmark and then slid hard into the end boards. For a moment, he left the Tampa Bay bench, but he was back quickly. He said it was because of a broken visor.
“It was tough start, I guess,” Kucherov said. “But it’s the playoffs. You have to play. It doesn’t matter what happened. I felt good today, and I felt we did a good job playing the right way.”
The Lightning had gone 0-for-3 on the power play in a 4-1 loss in Game 1, had gone four games without a power-play goal and had one power-play goal in six games until 11:23 of the first period.
Kucherov made a deft pass from the right circle into the slot for center Brayden Point, whose shot ramped off the stick blade of Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell and past goalie Anton Khudobin, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
“He makes plays like that all the time,” Point said. “He puts the puck in such good spots for guys to be able to score and to be able to succeed. We’ve seen it a lot, and we just try to get open for him and try to get good shots off.”
Video: DAL@TBL, Gm2: Point one-times power-play goal
Kucherov made another pass from the right circle on the power play soon afterward. This time, he threaded it between Janmark and Dallas forward Andrew Cogliano in the slot to teammate Ondrej Palat on the left circle.
Palat had time to settle the puck and shoot it into an open net before Khudobin could recover, giving the Lightning a 2-0 lead at 14:22. He was not surprised.
“Not really,” Palat said. “I saw him do that a lot, so I was ready for it. Great pass.”
Cooper said he probably would have been concerned about frustration when Kucherov was a little younger. A scorer whom opponents target in the playoffs can get thrown off his game. 
But Cooper said this year he has not been concerned. Kucherov knows what matters. He knows better how to handle it and make an impact for his team.
“The attention he gets is unparalleled,” Cooper said. “You’re getting that attention for a reason, because you’re pretty darn good. But you can’t let somebody see you sweat. They’re going to make it tough on you, and you’ve just got to fight through it.
“And the one thing is, respect is gained. It’s earned and it’s gained when you fight through stuff. He’s found a way to keep his emotions in check and really grind through players being hard on him, and I think that’s why he’s getting rewarded on the points side of things, because he’s sticking to his guns and he’s playing to the structure.
“He’s playing to the system, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch.”