Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Traikos: Kucherov avoids injury and propels Tampa Bay to Game 2 win

Traikos: Kucherov avoids injury and propels Tampa Bay to Game 2 win

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It was a strategy that worked for Dallas in Game 1. But in Game 2, the Stars were a bit too undisciplined in their approach. And Kucherov, who treated his various ailments as “Tis but a scratch,” made them pay — over and over again.

After drawing a high-sticking penalty, Kucherov found Brayden Point alone in the slot to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Three minutes later, Dallas took another penalty. And Kucherov set up another goal, this time by faking a one-timer and sliding a cross-crease pass to Ondrej Palat to make it 2-0.

“Kuch makes plays like that all the time,” said Point. “He puts the puck in such good spots for guys to be able to score and to be able to succeed.”

In the process, the Lightning showed that there really is no substitute for skill. Or heart. Or whatever brand of duct tape the Tampa Bay trainers were using to hold Kucherov together.

The latter seems to be the only thing that can derail the Lightning’s bid for the Stanley Cup.

The Triplets 2.0, as Cooper calls Kucherov, Point and Palat, combined for eight goals and 22 points in five games against Boston and another nine goals and 21 points in six games against the New York Islanders.

With Stamkos still unable to participate, they will need more of that against Dallas. More importantly, they will need to stay healthy.

These playoffs are a battle of attrition. They always have been. But in a format with a condensed schedule — Games 4 and 5 will be played on back-to-back nights — and an extra round built in, avoiding injury is almost as important as avoiding the penalty box.

Tampa Bay knows this better than anyone. The last time the Lightning reached the final in 2015, they had a team that was built to win it all.

But then starting goalie Ben Bishop hurt his knee and Tyler Johnson, who had led the team in scoring, played with a broken hand. And the Lightning lost in five games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

That’s what made Kucherov’s return in Game 2 so important. Without it, the series might have been done.

“I left because my visor was broken,” said Kucherov. “Nothing bad was happening.”

Or, as the Black Knight might say, ‘Tis but a scratch.

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