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Sidelined Nikita Kucherov still a presence with Lightning

He won’t play at all during the regular season, but the star forward is around the team every day in Tampa.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, left, hugs head coach Jon Cooper at the end of the Stanley Cup championship celebration in September at Raymond James Stadium.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, left, hugs head coach Jon Cooper at the end of the Stanley Cup championship celebration in September at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 2, 2021

TAMPA — Injured forward Nikita Kucherov isn’t on the ice, but he’s still very much a part of the Lightning.

Head coach Jon Cooper said he sees Kucherov, who is slated to miss the entire regular season recovering from hip surgery, every day the team is at home.

“It’s great to see him,” Cooper said. “He’s in really good spirits, but he’s really itching to get back. ... He doesn’t travel on the road with us, but he’s in a much better spot, or his body’s going to be, in a couple months here when he has the ability to get back.”

The Lightning still hope to have Kucherov, who led the team in points the past two seasons, back in time for the playoffs. So the club’s primary goal is to get to the postseason, where they hope they can benefit from the addition of their top scorer.

“I spoke to him for quite some time after the Nashville game (Saturday) in the locker room, and you can tell it kills these guys not to be out there,” Cooper said. “But it’s baby steps we’re going to take here. I think his next step eventually is going to be, whenever he is allowed, to go on skates. But that’s not at the present time yet.”

Cernak returns

Defenseman Erik Cernak returned from an upper-body injury Monday night, playing in his first game since Jan. 23.

“It’s a good thing I missed only two games last week. Now I’m feeling good and ready to get back,” Cernak said after Monday’s morning skate. ”It’s hard, because you can’t skate, you can’t play and you’re watching games from home.

“Obviously, you want to be on the ice with the team and be there for them. But like I said, it’s good I only missed two games, because there’s a lot of games in the regular season.”

The Lightning went with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman lineup Monday, as fourth-line wing Alex Volkov sat.

Maddon honored

Angels and former Rays manager Joe Maddon was honored as Monday’s Lightning community hero.

Maddon, who remains active in the Tampa Bay area through his Respect 90 foundation, will receive a $50,000 gift that he plans to donate to various charities like Homeless Empowerment Program, Tampa Salvation Army, Metropolitan Ministries, St. Vincent de Paul Cares and the Gathering of Women Food Pantry, the team announced.

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