The Islanders will have to wait and see if they have to deal with the NHL’s leading playoff point-producer in Game 7.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper had no update on the status of Nikita Kucherov for Friday’s win-or-go-home match with the Isles with a Stanley Cup Final berth hanging in the balance. Kucherov left Game 6 after just one shift following a cross-check by Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.
While Cooper was short with reporters Thursday morning, he did talk about who would need to step up if his star winger, who has 27 points in 17 games, could not play.
“It is early to talk about that,” Cooper said. “But if [Kucherov could not play], we would have to count on the player that came into the lineup. You move on. And if you are fortunate enough to win the game, it makes one hell of a story.”
Kucherov — the former MVP who missed the entire regular season while recovering undergoing hip surgery — continued his shift after being cross-checked and later attempted to check Mathew Barzal. But Kucherov came up awkwardly, crippled over in pain and immediately left the ice. His night lasted 46 seconds.
Mayfield did not receive a penalty for his actions.
“The play on [Kucherov], the referee doesn’t see it. Probably a guy looking for a cheap shot there,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said Wednesday night. “I think [the referees] said they didn’t think it was malicious. They don’t have a chance to look at it on replay like we do.”
The NHL officiating has been a topic of discussion all postseason and Game 6 was no different. There were uncalled cross-checks on both teams, and the penalties that were called were questionable.
“It would be weird to say [Mayfield’s cross-check] wasn’t malicious,” Cooper said. “I don’t think that’s in the rule book, that cross-checks have to be malicious. I just know it happened really close to one of the officials, and he didn’t see it.”
No matter what happens Friday night for Game 7, Cooper is ready for the challenge that lies ahead — with or without Kucherov.
“We played 56 games without [Kucherov],” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Usually, we have 12 forwards when we play without him, so that probably made it tougher on us when we had 11. But we’ve gone down this path for four months. It’s nothing new for us.”