Already reeling from being down 2-0 in a series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to deal with their “five-alarm fire” without their best man equipped to douse the flames.
Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading point producer during the regular season, is banned from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series on Sunday.
Kucherov lost his cool late in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Friday, slashing Blue Jackets’ Markus Nutivaara and then, when he was on his knees in a vulnerable spot, drilling him into the half boards.
Kucherov was given two for tripping, a five-minute major for boarding and assessed a game misconduct on the play.
The league moved swiftly on this one after announcing the hearing late Friday.
George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, said while the hit isn’t excessively violent in nature, there are a number of other factors that play into it meriting supplemental discipline.
“Kucherov is control of this play at all times,” Parros said in the department’s suspension video. “This is not a play where Nutivaara falls to the ice suddenly or unexpectedly in a way that leaves Kucherov little time to react.”
Parros said the reason Nutivaara was on the ice in the first place was because of the trip Kucherov put on him prior to the hit, leaving the Blue Jackets defenseman in a defenseless position.
“Kucherov takes advantage of this situation to deliver a dangerous hit on a player in an exposed, defenseless position,” Parros said.
And above all this, Parros said that the department believes the incident falls under Article 18.2 of the NHL’s collective bargain agreement when it comes to “message send,” where an incident occurs late in the game, with a lopsided score and/or from prior events in the game.
“While we understand that frustration often occurs at the end of a game, dangerous or retaliatory plays delivered in the final minutes of a playoff game will be viewed in context and punished accordingly,” Parros said.
The Lightning are already in big trouble. They’ve been outplayed badly over the first two games and none of their big names — and there are a lot of them — are producing anything. They badly needed Kucherov to show up in Game 3 after having now points in the first two games.
Each of those guys had 40 or more goals this season and at least 90 points.
Three sides of the milk carton are already taken up, and you could easily fill up the fourth with others on the team. Hell, you might need multiple milk cartons just to address all those who are MIA.
With Victor Hedman’s status in question, the Lightning could be running with without last year’s Norris winner and this year’s likely Hart recipient.
Still, they are hopeful.