Lightning don’t expect Kucherov to be ‘invisible’ in Game 7

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Fair or not, when you author a 100-point season, people expect you to carry those big numbers over to the biggest games.

Nikita Kucherov‘s idol and Game 7 opponent Alex Ovechkin‘s known those headaches all too well, yet after the Capitals slayed the Penguins dragon in round two, much of the pressure is instead on the Lightning’s top guys heading into tonight’s decisive contest.

That line is shining especially bright on Kucherov and Steven Stamkos in part thanks to contrast, as Ovechkin and the Capitals were a wrecking ball to ward off elimination in Game 6.

Earlier during the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, the complaint was that the Bolts’ best players were only really finding offense on the power play. They might settle for that at this point, as both Kucherov (one assist) and Stamkos (one goal) have been limited to a single point in their past three games.

Such struggles prompted some heavy criticisms from Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick, with them going as far as to describe Kucherov as “invisible.”

Well, there was one way Kucherov did show up: looking sad in various pictures, particularly after Devante Smith-Pelly scored a dagger of a goal. (This one takes the cake.)

via Getty

Whether you judge his play by production, deeper metrics, or sad faces, things haven’t been going so well for Kucherov lately. The Athletic’s Joe Smith reports that Lightning coach Jon Cooper expects a rebound (sub required).

“He’s a big part of our team — a 40-goal scorer, 100-point guy,” Cooper said. “We need him. Sometimes it’s going your way, sometimes it’s not. But I know that he’s a player with a special talent, I’ve seen him rise to the occasion time and time again. I expect nothing different (on Wednesday) from ‘Kuch’.”

Again, Kucherov hasn’t been the only high-end player who isn’t filling the net. Stamkos is struggling, too, just with fewer funny photos. The good news is that Stamkos is saying all of the right things about Game 7 on Wednesday.

“This is one of the best sporting events you can be a part of,” Stamkos said. “Not too many people thought we would be here going down 2-0 in the series … It’s something you embrace, something you dream of.”

That’s a valid point about the Lightning previously being down 2-0.

Tampa Bay’s experienced some peaks and valleys during this series, the likes of which they didn’t really endure through the first two rounds of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes teams hit a bump in the road and don’t really get a chance to recover. The Lightning are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final, and many will forget Stamkos’ and Kucherov’s struggles if they advance.

Bonus points if they score some points along the way.

You can watch Game 7 between the Lightning and Capitals on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET tonight. Here’s the livestream link.

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
• Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.