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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Sergachev expected to play tonight

Both players left a chippy Game 4 against the Panthers with injuries. The Lightning can close out the first-round series tonight.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) on the ice for warm ups before taking on the Florida Panthers in game five of the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BB&T Center on Monday, May 24, 2021 in Sunrise.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) on the ice for warm ups before taking on the Florida Panthers in game five of the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BB&T Center on Monday, May 24, 2021 in Sunrise. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 24, 2021|Updated May 25, 2021

SUNRISE — The Lightning likely will have both star wing Nikita Kucherov and key defenseman Mikhail Sergachev back in the lineup for tonight’s potentially decisive Game 5.

After leaving Saturday’s first-round playoff win with injuries, both players were participants in Monday’s morning skate at the BB&T Center. Asked whether both will be active tonight, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “Yeah, they should be.”

Kucherov left in the third period of Saturday’s game with an apparent left leg injury after he was slashed by Panthers forward Anthony Duclair. He was on the ice writhing in pain for several minutes as head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan looked at Kucherov’s left knee. Kucherov was able to skate off, but struggled to put weight on his leg and eventually disappeared down the tunnel and did not return.

Sergachev left minutes later after he was blindsided by a hard hit from Panthers forward Patric Hornqvist. He also had to be attended to on the ice and skated off under his own power but didn’t return.

Both players were full participants in Monday’s morning skate, ending the session practicing on their respective power-play units.

Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow also returned to the ice, but Cooper said he wouldn’t be available for Game 5. Goodrow hasn’t played since the penultimate game of the regular season May 8.

Knight in net for Florida?

Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight clears the puck from behind the net during a May 3 game against the Stars.
Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight clears the puck from behind the net during a May 3 game against the Stars. [ JOEL AUERBACH | Associated Press ]

On the brink of elimination, it appears that the Panthers will start their third different goalie of the playoffs tonight.

Starter Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Chris Driedger both mostly struggled in the first four games against the Lightning. Twenty-year-old rookie Spencer Knight worked in the starter’s net in Sunday’s practice and Monday’s morning skate.

Panthers coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t announce a starter Monday morning, but said Knight was a possibility.

Knight has won all four games he’s appeared in (three of them starts), becoming the youngest goaltender in NHL history to win his first four decisions. He has allowed an average of 2.32 goals per game and has a .919 save percentage.

This would be his first career start against the Lightning.

Bobrovsky was benched in favor of Driedger after allowing five goals on 40 shots in the Lightning’s Game 1 win. Driedger played well in Game 2, but was pulled after allowing five goals on 13 shots in the second period of Game 3. Bobrovsky stopped all nine shots in relief, but was pulled in Saturday’s Game 4 after allowing five goals on 14 shots.

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The Lightning have done their homework on Knight, Cooper said.

“You’re not doing your job unless you’re checking every box and you look at goalies,” Cooper said. “For instance, Florida has played multiple goalies during the regular season and so you have to have a book on them and some are easier than others. You know just because some players have played in the league longer. (Goaltending coach) Frantz Jean does that for us. He’s exceptional at it.”

No worries for Stamkos

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was in obvious discomfort on the bench in the third period of Saturday’s Game 4, getting his right side checked by head trainer Mulligan.

But Stamkos said he’s okay. Replays showed that he collided with defenseman Victor Hedman as Hedman was trying to block a shot in the Lightning zone.

“All good,” Stamkos said. “I think it just was either a puck or I collided with someone trying to block a shot so no problems, just part of the game.”

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