A team that could use some good news got some on Monday morning when Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper declared injured forward Nikita “probable” for tonight’s must-win Game 6 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA).
The 21-year-old winger was injured during the first period of Game 5 on Saturday when he appeared to crash shoulder-first into the goal post. He immediately left the ice and did not return. The Lightning went on to lose the game 2–1.
Kucherov has been a force for the Lightning as part of the Triplets unit. He has 10 goals and 22 points so far in the playoffs, trailing only linemate Tyler Johnson in the postseason scoring race.
“Obviously Kuch has been a huge part of why we’ve been successful,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said on Sunday. “A clutch player, scored some big goals.
We’re hoping that he’s back. If not, we have guys that are capable. We’ve proved that before. We just got to keep believing that.”
Stamkos skated a few shifts in Kucherov’s spot alongside Johnson and Ondrej Palat after the injury. So did Jonathan Drouin, whose last-minute insertion into the lineup for Game 5 proved fortuitous for the Bolts. It's expected that the rookie winger will be called on again to provide some insurance even if Kucherov is able to play in Game 6.
In other Lightning news, starting goaltender Ben Bishop, who has battled an undisclosed injury since Game 2, pronounced himself good to go for Game 6.
“I feel better,” he said on Monday morning. “I think those couple days [off between Games 4 and 5] really helped. It’s gotten better every day.”
Bishop also said that the pressure of playing in an elimination game won’t change the approach he or his teammates take to the game.
“I think you have to approach it like any other game,” he said. “You can’t look at as a do-or-die situation. You have to prepare the same way you do in the preseason, the regular season and postseason. You don’t really change anything.
“I think we’ve played pretty well all playoffs. You don’t really want to change anything, do anything different. I think we’ve had a consistent team all year. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve done well.”