The Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff woes became worse Saturday when the NHL suspended Nikita Kucherov, the league’s leading scorer, one playoff game for his boarding incident against Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara on Friday night.
Tampa Bay, considered the Stanley Cup favorite, already trails Columbus 2-0 heading into Sunday’s Game 3 of their best-of-seven quarterfinal.
Victor Hedman, the Lightning's No. 1 defenseman, also didn’t practice Saturday because he is banged up. The Lightning seem hopeful he will play in Game 3.
According to the NHL’s department of player safety, Kucherov’s boarding penalty against Nutivaara wasn’t excessively violent.
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But DOPS officials felt Kucherov deserved the penalty because he was in control of the play and it was “a dangerous hit on a player who is in an exposed, defenseless position.”
Kucherov, who had 128 points in the regular season, tripped Nutivaara before he boarded him. He was given a major penalty and ejected with 4:26 remaining in the 5-1 loss.
Uhhh, Nikita Kucherov 😬 pic.twitter.com/M4DaHebfJa
The video announcing the suspension also pointed out the hit was viewed as “message-sending” because it was delivered late in a lopsided game.
The Lightning tied an NHL record this season with 62 wins and didn’t face much adversity all year. They led the NHL in scoring, helped by three players (Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point) who scored 41 or more goals.
None of those players have a point thus far against the Blue Jackets and they are a combined -7.
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