Lightning journal: Nikita Kucherov faces possible suspension for Game 3

The league will review Kucherov’s hit on Columbus’ Markus Nutivaara.
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), bottom, is slammed to the ice by Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) after Kucherov hit defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in the third period. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), bottom, is slammed to the ice by Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) after Kucherov hit defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in the third period. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published April 12
Updated April 13

TAMPA — Nikita Kucherov’s frustration finally hit its breaking point late in the third period of the Lightning’s 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Friday, and he put himself in a position that could get him suspended for Sunday’s Game 3 of the first-round playoff series with the Lightning trailing 2-0.

The Department of Player Safety said Kucherov will face a hearing Saturday for boarding Markus Nutivarra

With less than five minutes remaining in Game 2, Kucherov tripped Nutivaara, who slid into the boards. As he tried to get back on his feet, Kucherov raced over and hit him into the boards again.

The referees whistled for a stoppage of play, and Kucherov was penalized two minutes for tripping and five for boarding, and was given a game misconduct. Victor Hedman was also given a 10-minute misconduct for the ensuing scrum.

Kucherov slammed the glass behind the bench as he headed down the tunnel to the locker room.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he didn’t see the hit and had intentionally not reviewed it before his news conference.

Columbus coach John Tortorella said he saw the hit quite clearly and it was self-explanatory.

Put them in, Coach?

Lightning veterans Ryan Callahan and Braydon Coburn found themselves healthy scratches for the first two game against Columbus. Callahan has had to redefine his role most of the season, one that saw the forward become more of a behind-the-scenes leader. He sat out 26 games in the regular season.

Coburn landed in a seven-defensemen rotation but had been a familiar face in a pairing with Mikhail Sergachev since Anton Stralman went out with an injury in early March.

With the Lightning trailing 2-0 with the series headed to Columbus for Sunday’s Game 3, Tampa Bay could be looking for leadership. Callahan and Coburn can offer it 251 games of playoff experience.

Collapse of special teams

The Lightning special teams played crucial roles in the regular season but weren’t that special again Friday. Tampa Bay finished 0-for-2 on the power play and 2-for-4 on the penalty kill. On the flip side, Columbus’ special teams have been top notch. The Blue Jackets are 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and 3-for-6 on the power play in two games.

Vasilevskiy’s rough water

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the backbone of the Lightning all season. And now the pressure is all on him.

In Games 1 and 2, the All-Star has allowed nine goals. In his past nine playoff games, he has allowed 30 goals for a goals-against average of 3.33. He has lost six of those games, dating to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final last season against the Capitals.

When the opposing team notched more than two goals in that nine-game stretch, the Lightning lost five of them. Vasilevskiy entered Friday with a goals-against average of 2.73 in 30 career postseason games.

“He’s the one guy I’m not worried about,” Cooper said.

Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.

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