Sports Nikita Kucherov Is Back – Deal With It
First-round pick Yegor Chinakhov signs with Blue Jackets
The 20-year-old Russian was solid in the KHL this season, picking up 10 goals and 17 points in 32 games with Avangard Omsk.After winning the Gagarin Cup earlier this week, Chinakhov had a decision to make whether to re-sign in the KHL and continue his career in Russia, or join the Blue Jackets who drafted him last fall. When his KHL contract expired, the decision was made, and Chinakhov is coming to North America according to his agent Shumi Babaev. The Blue Jackets have not released any details, but the 20-year-old forward will be limited to his three-year entry-level contract.
The Tampa Bay Lightning superstar looked like his old self in Game 1, but a lot of hard work went into his return.
Nikita Kucherov missed all of training camp and the entire 56-game regular season schedule due to hip surgery, but when Tampa Bay needed all hands on deck in Game 1 against the Florida Panthers, 'Kuch' was there. For some fans in the hockey world, Kucherov's recovery timeline (and subsequent cap relief for the Lightning) was a little too convenient, though other players who have gone through similar procedures vouched for the process.
Cernak has goal and 2 assists, Lightning beat Stars 6-2
TAMPA, Fla. — Defenceman Erik Cernak had a goal and two assists to help the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 6-2 on Wednesday night. Defending champion Tampa Bay has won six of the seven meetings this season between the 2020 Stanley Cup finalists. The teams will meet again Friday night in Tampa. The Stars remained alive for the fourth and final spot in the Central Division after Nashville’s loss in Columbus. Dallas is four points back with three games remaining. “We understand we need to win and we need help,’’ Dallas forward Joe Pavelski said. “We have to win our next game and focus from there and see what happens. That’s the biggest thing.
Either way, with two power play goals and three points in the opening win, Kucherov gave his teammates a boost.
"You can tell his presence gives the whole team a lot of confidence," said defenseman Victor Hedman. "From the start he had jump and made some great plays: two goals, three points – that says it all about what kind of player 'Kuch' is; he's a clutch player. It's very impressive to see him come out and deliver like that in the first game back. The scary part is he's only going to get better."
Coach Jon Cooper joked that the only thing holding back Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (also returning from injury, though not a season-long absence) were their "legs and their lungs." And even with his remarkable season debut, Kucherov's stamina during these playoffs will be something to watch.
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Stamkos, a bit of an aficionado on returning from big injuries while being an elite player, believes his buddy will be fine.
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"You can always fall back on your preparation and there's no one more prepared than 'Kuch,' " he said. "This guy is on the ice all the time working on his craft. There's a reason why he's one of the best in the world – there's a correlation there."
It's impossible to oversell just what Kucherov means to the complexion of this Lightning outfit. With him and Stamkos back on the power play, Tampa Bay is lethal and that was on full display against the Panthers in Game 1 with the Lightning scoring on three out of four power play opportunities. Kucherov scored both his goals from a near-identical spot with that wicked shot of his, but with Tampa Bay presenting so many weapons on the man advantage, the Panthers will truly have to pick their poison in this series.
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As for Kucherov himself, the potent winger is still getting used to his physical situation.
"A new hip is a new hip; it's different," he said. "I'm better and I feel really good. I was excited to get back in the game and be with the boys. I've been waiting for this for a long time and it's nice to get this one out of the way and focus on the next game."
Kucherov's extended absence did allow Tampa Bay to squeeze a ton of talent in under the cap, which immediately re-ignited social media when he started burying goals in Game 1. But even in the unlikely event Tampa Bay conspired to keep him off the ice until the playoffs – where the salary cap doesn't matter – it would have been a very dangerous game to play.
Sure, everyone expected the Bolts to make the post-season even without Kucherov, but what if star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy got hurt along the way, or top center Brayden Point? As it is, the Lightning finished third in the division, but there's an alternate timeline where the Dallas Stars win a few more games and Tampa Bay's injury luck worsens, causing the Lightning to drop out of the playoff picture.
And the fact of the matter is, Tampa Bay broke no league rules. The Lightning were deep enough that they could faithfully trudge on without Kucherov for 56 games and sure enough, they did so successfully. Now, with no salary cap to worry about, the Bolts have their superstar back and Game 1 went swimmingly.
That's bad news for the rest of the playoff field, but great news for Lightning fans.
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