TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov showed why he is the most talented player on the ice in Tuesday’s Game 1 of the second round.
Kucherov kick-started the Lightning offense in game one of the second round against the Florida Panthers in the second period. Trailing 1-0, Kucherov juked Florida defender Aaron Ekblad setting up Corey Perry for an easy tap-in goal.
“That a world-class play, helluva play,” Perry said. “I shake my head sometimes.”
“Yeah, that was effortless,” head coach Jon Cooper added. “I’ve always said about Kuch, he knows what the guy he’s going against is going to do before they do. He made that one look easy."
That tied the game at one, silencing the crowd in Sunrise a while, helping shift the momentum the Bolts' way.
“I grabbed the puck. I saw we had a man advantage,” Kucherov said. “I just try to go around the D, make plays out there. Perrs (Corey Perry) did a good job of driving back post.”
The Russian winger wasn’t done. He stuck the dagger in on Tampa Bay’s third power play of the game in the third period.
“Obviously, he likes to do it on his own at times, too, and take over,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “An all-world play on the set-up there to Perrs to get us on the board there. We’ve seen it time and time again the guy loves playing playoff hockey and stepping up when we need him.”
Playing with star center Brayden Point, their top postseason goal scorer since 2017, someone needed to step up. That was Kucherov, who quietly finished with eight points in their first-round series, giving the Bolts the jolt they needed.
“It definitely sucks to not have Pointer here, he’ll be with us,” Kucherov said. “We got Perrs in there, he’s a Hall of Famer. He knows what he’s doing. We didn’t really change anything. Just stick to the plan, execution was the key.”
“It’s unfair to put anything on one player, this guy has to step up or this guy has to step up,” Cooper said. “The team, this is a team game. Coaches have to step up, everybody does.”
Game 2 is Thursday at 7 p.m. in Sunrise.