The Tampa Bay Lightning took a 1-0 series lead over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. This came just three days after they eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a gruelling seven-game series. With no Brayden Point, some thought the Panthers’ offence may be too much to handle for a possibly worn-out Lightning team. However, a familiar face rose up and took control of things. That person would be Nikita Kucherov. No one would say Kucherov had a bad round one, scoring eight points in the seven games. However, his Game 1 performance Tuesday showed just why the Lightning need that Kucherov instead.
Nikita Kucherov Goes Above and Beyond Again
Round One Kucherov
So, what exactly do we mean when we say Kucherov needed to be better than he was in Round 1? After all, he was over a point per game in the series. First of all, that shows just the immense skill he has. Simply producing points isn’t enough for the expectations he has due to how great of a player he is. The big thing against Toronto was that Kucherov really shined on the power play. Five of his eight points came with the man advantage, leaving him with just three at 5v5 all series. Two of those three points were secondary assists. Those still count, but can at times be valued less than primary points, of which he had just one of all series.
You’re not always going to be able to produce at 5v5, and that’s okay. However, for this Tampa team to go on a run, they will need Kucherov to change that. Not only were the pucks not going in, he truly didn’t look that dangerous at even strength. Some of this can be a credit to Toronto who put a lot of resources to shut him and his line down. But the difference-makers will always find a way, and that’s what Kucherov will need to do.
In the series against Toronto, Kucherov finished with a CorsiFor% of 49% and an ExpectedGoals% of just 42% at even strength. He created just 0.64 Individual Expected Goals per 60 minutes, which ranked 9th among Bolts forwards. All of this goes to say, he just wasn’t as effective as we know the normal Nikita Kucherov to be against Toronto. He had a few looks, but oftentimes the Leafs did a good job effectively shutting him down at 5v5.
Game 1 Against Florida
The good news? Tampa still won that series and it no longer matters. The even better news? Kucherov is already flipping the switch. With Point out, there was no doubt it would mean Kucherov and his line were going to get that much more attention. And while he didn’t have any 5v5 points, he showed he was ready for it. Kucherov had an amazing game in every area of the ice. It led to him having a team-leading 59CF%, and a 53xGF%. The team controlled the pace of play when Kucherov was on the ice, and it was a much-needed showing.
Not only that, but his defensive game was showing too. In the first period, he had a great backcheck to force a turnover and help move the puck the other way. And while he had a few turnovers of his own, it was plays like that which helped highlight just how much he can give at each end of the ice.
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Toss in his great transition which led to a silky assist on a Corey Perry goal, and you have a complete game from Kucherov. Just to top it off, he ripped one home on the power play for good measure. It was hard to ask for more than what he brought tonight. Kucherov flexed his dominance on the score sheet, as well as backed it up at 5v5 with strong underlying numbers which are very encouraging for Tampa fans moving forward.
Tampa Fans Are Used to This
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Kucherov can and will take over a game or even series. It’s all he’s done over the past two playoff runs. He has 34 and 32 points in the last two years respectively during the playoffs. The only other two players with back-to-back 30-point playoff seasons? Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. Not too shabby of company.
Kucherov has been the driver of this team. Of course, it’s a team effort, shared with the likes of Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and others. But at the end of the day, it is Kucherov who has put up the 100 and 132-point seasons. And it’s Kucherov that other teams focus on shutting down offensively each game. That extended focus can and will mean there will be games where Kucherov and his line don’t score goals. And that is okay because it opens up opportunities for other lines down the lineup. However, even when he isn’t scoring, Nikita Kucherov needs to help play a role in controlling play while he’s on the ice just as he did last night.
For the Lightning to keep having success, Kucherov from Game 1 is what they need to see.