Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov questionable for Game 6
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If you expected Lightning coach Jon Cooper to provide a definitive “yes” or “no” about whether Nikita Kucherov would play in Game 6, well, you haven’t been following the Stanley Cup Final very closely. But Cooper didn’t rule out Kucherov, who went crashing shoulder-first into the post in the first period of Game 5 and didn’t return. The Lightning’s second-leading scorer in the playoffs made the trip to Chicago.
“We’ll have an optional skate [Monday], so don’t read anything into it if he’s not on the ice,” Cooper said Sunday. “He’s in considerably better shape today than he was last night. To be honest, I thought there was a chance he was coming back [in Game 5]. But it didn’t work out. These two days will give him the rest he needs.”
Without Kucherov, Steven Stamkos — who has yet to score in the Final — saw some time alongside Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, as did Jonathan Drouin. Kucherov has 10 goals and 12 assists in the postseason after scoring 29 goals in the regular season.
“Obviously, Kuch has been a huge part of why we’ve been successful,” Stamkos said. “A clutch player, scored some big goals. Very good player. … We’re hoping that he’s back. If not, we have guys that are capable. We’ve proved that before. We’ve just got to keep believing that.”
Cooper equated Kucherov’s status to the ongoing saga of goaltender Ben Bishop, who’s been a question mark every day. Though Bishop seems a lock to start Game 6.
“He felt much better,” Cooper said. “I thought he played an exceptional game. We’re sitting here giving up two goals or less a game You can’t ask for much more than that from your goaltenders. We’ve got to start putting a few pucks in the net. But he’s feeling much better.”
Brad Richards won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004 — when, incidentally, Tampa Bay lost Game 5 at home then went on to win Games 6 and 7 — when he was just 24. He returned to the Final with the New York Rangers last season, and has a chance to win his second Cup this spring.
Experience has made him even more appreciative of the opportunity.
“When you’re young like that, sometimes you don’t realize the magnitude of a big experience like that,” he told French-language reporters. “But when you’re 15 years into your career, you know that you don’t get a chance to win the Cup every day, or every year. For me, I don’t know where I’ll be playing next year, I don’t know if I’ll be done in two or three years. So when you have a chance like this, you take it very seriously.”
Joel Quenneville isn’t planning a rousing pregame speech for Game 6.
“My speeches are no good,” he said to laughter. “I don’t want to go there.”
Cooper, naturally, wouldn’t commit to one or not.
“I don’t know, I’ve delivered speeches to the team on numerous occasions,” he said. “In some of these situations, I don’t know if one’s required. A lot of times, I speak from the heart or in the moment. But probably in a situation like this, I will not be the only one speaking. I can pretty much guarantee you that. I think we’ll have a bunch of guys in our room that will have a lot to say. Usually when that happens, we’ve responded really well.”