TAMPA, FL. – Welcome back, Nikita Kucherov.
The Lightning fared well without their electric goal scorer, going 20-7-5 since he left the ice at Washington on October 16 with a lower-body injury. Of course, it is much better to have him in the lineup, which he was Thursday night in a 4-1 win against Calgary at Amalie Arena.
Kucherov hit the ice, with linemates Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, 1:47 into the opening period. He appeared on the center ice video board and the crowd roared its approval – Kooch! Kooch! Kooch! – upon seeing the superstar take the ice at Amalie for the first time since opening night against Pittsburgh, six days shy of three months ago.
“It was nice to be back, that’s for sure,” said Kucherov. “The team was in first place and playing well (without me). I wanted to get back and help them.”
Within seconds on his first shift, Kucherov rifled a Victor Hedman feed from the slot wide to the near side of Calgary goalie Dan Vladar. It is a shot that will likely find the back of the net a couple of games from now. There was some rust early on, for sure, but who’s complaining?
Kucherov appeared to be in mid-season form in the third period he had a pair of nifty assists on goals by Brayden Point – an impressive one-time pass from the right circle that went on Point’s tape for a tap in – and Ondrej Palat to turn a 1-0 affair into a 3-0 game.
The assists were part of a night in which No. 86 had three shots on goal and 17:29 of ice time.
“For him to miss as much time and play a big, fast team and do the things he did, he’s elite,” said coach Jon Cooper. “He would be the first to tell you he has more in the tank. His timing was a little off, for him. The goal that set up Pointer was elite.”
Kucherov was not the only player to return Thursday night. Blake Coleman, who played such a vital role in the Lightning winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, was back in Amalie with the Flames.
The Lightning saluted Coleman’s time with the team with a wonderful video tribute during a stoppage in the first period.
The first-place Lightning, who opened the scoring on Corey Perry’s 10th goal of the season and fourth goal in his last five games, are back at Amalie on Saturday night (7 p.m.) to play the Bruins.
Android Users, Click Here To Download The Free Press App And Never Miss A Story. It’s Free And Coming To Apple Users Soon