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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov expected to return Thursday

The reigning Hart Trophy winner left Tuesday’s loss to St. Louis after a big hit from Brayden Schenn
Nikita Kucherov left Tuesday's game in the second period but is expected to return to the lineup as soon as Thursday.
Nikita Kucherov left Tuesday's game in the second period but is expected to return to the lineup as soon as Thursday. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 20, 2019

CHICAGO — After getting rocked with the possibility of injuries to two of the team’s biggest stars, Lightning fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

Nikita Kucherov is expected to return to the lineup for Thursday’s game against Chicago.

The reigning Hart Trophy winner left Tuesday’s loss to St. Louis in the second period after taking a big hit from Brayden Schenn. Kucherov was caught off-guard, just after getting rid of the puck. He turned right into the contact from the 6-foot-1, 100-pound forward, and was knocked on his back.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Pat Maroon returns to great love from his hometown of St. Louis

Kucherov’s head did not hit the ice and he did not undergo concussion protocol. The contact to his body, both by Schenn and then with the ice, kept him from returning as opposed to an injury to his head.

This all came after Steven Stamkos missed morning skate. Coach Jon Cooper deemed that absence “a little bit of maintenance” and Stamkos was in his usual spot centering the top line when puck dropped.

Neither Stamkos nor Kucherov missed a game last season. It was Kucherov’s first 82-game season in four years, but he has never missed substantial time (74 games in the 2016-17 season being his lowest total). Two years ago, Kucherov missed only two games.

Even when Kucherov’s not putting up jaw-dropping numbers (he has 18 points in 18 games so far this season), he is always a threat. There’s also the fact that he was at the exact same pace 18 games into last season.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.