TAMPA – As Nikita Kucherov slid puck control to his right hand and tried to maneuver around Devon Toews late in the third period Monday at Amalie Arena, the Avalanche defender cross-checked Kucherov from behind. It sent the Lightning forward tumbling, causing his right side to crunch against the boards.
For a few moments, Kucherov remained on the ice, but he crouched while returning to the bench and eventually left down the tunnel. The Lightning already had lost Nick Paul for a few minutes late in the first period. They’d managed without Brayden Point – scratched after returning for the first two games of the series. But when Kucherov did not return, the injury became a cause for concern following the Lightning’s 6-2 win over the Avalanche in Game 3.
“It’s a game, it’s a contact game, but guys know what they’re doing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said when asked about the hit on Kucherov. “Smart, savvy players know what they’re doing with their stick. And we all saw it. ”
Cooper did not provide updates on any of the injured players after the game, saying he’d have those statuses on Tuesday. Paul’s last shift of the first period ended with his leg twisting awkwardly after a hit along the boards, forcing him to exit the ice and work with a trainer. He exited down the tunnel and did not return in the frame.
Paul’s first shift of the second period, though, ended with his arms raised in the air and chest pushed out toward the crowd – celebrating his shot that extended the Lightning lead to 3-1 less than three minutes into the period. He returned for his line’s first shift of the second, won the faceoff and then deposited a centering pass from Ross Colton into the net.
“Came back, nice little shift for us, found me in the slot and it ended up going in the back of the net,” Paul said.
Paul said he did not have any doubt that he’d return, adding that he was “feeling good” and “was coming back, for sure.” Corey Perry also was shaken up at one point following a hit against the boards behind the net, staying back and jabbing goalie Darcy Kuemper before skating to the bench and getting looked at by trainers.
He eventually returned, and scored from the power-play spot re-inherited with Point out. But with the Lightning’s lines already in flux with Point’s absence, their first win in the Stanley Cup final came at a cost – especially if Kucherov misses time.
“Guys are obviously banged up,” Stamkos said when asked about Paul’s injury, return and goal. “Especially this time of year.”
Maroon’s offensive boon
Pat Maroon had already collected his first point since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final when he collected a pass from Kucherov and skated toward the goal line. That came on the Lightning’s first goal, when they tied the Avalanche at 1 before turning that into a three-goal burst.
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But this time, Maroon found himself with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos – two members of the Lightning’s top line – because of a roughing penalty he’d taken two minutes prior. Maroon sped out of the penalty box, maneuvered up ice and tucked the puck past Kuemper short-side to give the Lightning a 5-2 lead in the second.
Maroon’s tally forced a goalie change while securing his first multipoint game since Feb. 23 against Edmonton.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have their first win of the Stanley Cup final against the Colorado Avalanche.
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