The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 Monday night in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it may have come with a cost.
Tampa Bay’s star winger Nikita Kucherov left the contest with 6:05 remaining in the third period after what one teammate deemed “a dangerous play” by Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews.
As Kucherov handled the puck and attempted to navigate around Toews, the Colorado defenseman cross-checked him from behind. The thunderous blow sent Kucherov crashing into the boards as he buckled to one knee.
The Lightning forward briefly remained on the ice following the collision – even going after Toews – but ultimately hobbled to the bench and through the tunnel towards the trainer’s room.
“It’s one of those plays you don’t want to see,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said of Toews’ hit. “It’s a dangerous play. You never want to see that.”
Toews was penalized with a two-minute minor soon after administering the cross-check. The blow was seemingly retaliation for Kucherov’s hit on Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson near the end boards, which happened two minutes beforehand and went unpenalized.
Following the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said there was no update on his star player’s status. What was certain in Cooper’s eyes was the intent of the cross-check that removed him.
“It’s a game. It’s a contact game, but guys know what they’re doing,” Cooper said. “Smart, savvy players know what they’re doing with their stick. We all saw it.”
Before departing the game, Kucherov recorded two assists to push his total to 26 points over 20 playoff games. The star forward leads the Lightning in postseason scoring with seven goals and 19 assists.
The Lightning have already lost Brayden Point, who was scratched from Game 3 after returning for the first two games from a lower body injury he sustained in Game 1. Nick Paul was also clearly seen fighting through pain throughout Monday’s contest, repeatedly taking trips to the locker room.
A long term absence by Kucherov would be difficult to overcome for the Lightning, who currently trail the Avalanche 2-1 in the series. However, the two-time defending champion’s ability to handle adversity has been on full display throughout their extraordinary postseason run.
Game 4 is set for Wednesday in Tampa Bay.