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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov feels ‘normal’ after first round

The right wing, who missed the regular season after hip surgery, feels good with time on the top line and power-play unit after six games.
 
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov leads the league in postseason points (11) with three goals and eight assists after six games.
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov leads the league in postseason points (11) with three goals and eight assists after six games. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 29, 2021|Updated May 29, 2021

TAMPA — Even after missing the entire regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery, no one doubted Nikita Kucherov would have an impact in the Lightning’s first-round playoff series against the Panthers.

And make an impact he has. The right wing leads the league in postseason points (11) with three goals and eight assists after six games.

“It took a few games for me to adjust the speed and physically adjust to the game,” Kucherov said. “But after two games, I felt normal, like I would during the season. I didn’t have any issues and so far, so good.”

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Kucherov immediately was added back on the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat in addition to the team’s top power-play unit, shifting Palat to the second unit.

In Kucherov’s first game May 16, he notched three points with back-to-back, power-play goals in the second period and an assist on Point’s tying power-play goal late in the third period.

“The power play’s huge and when you get a goal or assist, it gives you a boost, a little confidence,” Kucherov said. “You start feeling a little more comfortable in the game, more loose. And I think that’s helped me a lot to have some (power play) time. and it’s kind of given me a boost for the next games for sure.”

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The chemistry wasn’t lost in Kucherov’s return, either. Passes threaded through traffic like they were on a string and everything fit together as easy as a puzzle.

“We knew with him coming back he was going to be good to go, I mean, he’s one of the best players in the world,” Point said. “You’re going to play different with different linemates, but Kuch sees the ice so well. He gets you the puck in such good spots, it’s easy to play with him.”

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With Round 2 against Carolina starting Sunday at 5 p.m. on NBCSN, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Kucherov will be “X factor” in the series, adding he’s “a huge weapon” and “the freshest guy in the league.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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