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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov exits game with injury, severity unknown

The star forward leaves Saturday’s game in Washington in obvious pain and will be re-evaluated after the team returns home.
Nikita Kucherov makes his way to the bench after he was injured during the third period against the Capitals on Saturday night.
Nikita Kucherov makes his way to the bench after he was injured during the third period against the Capitals on Saturday night. [ NICK WASS | Associated Press ]
Published Oct. 17
Updated Oct. 17

WASHINGTON — Lightning star forward Nikita Kucherov left Tampa Bay’s 2-1 overtime win over the Capitals midway through the third period Saturday night with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

While chasing a puck, Kucherov appeared to dodge Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway and then grabbed his groin area, hunching over in obvious pain. Kucherov slowly skated off the ice, even getting a push from Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov as he skated by the Capitals bench, then hobbled down the tunnel.

Coach Jon Cooper said after the game it was too early to identify the severity of Kucherov’s injury. Kucherov was to be re-evaluated after the team returned to Tampa on Saturday night.

“We’ll have to see,” Cooper said. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV, so I have no way to answer what’s going on with him. He’ll be evaluated when we get back. He’s a tough kid. So hopefully this isn’t too bad.”

The Lightning know how tough Kucherov is. After fracturing his ribs in the last postseason, he wore a protective vest and received injections to keep him on the ice.

“It didn’t look good,” captain Steven Stamkos said of Kucherov’s problem Saturday. “Hopefully he’s okay. That’s one of the best players in the league, so we’re praying that he’s okay.”

Kucherov missed the last regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery. He returned for the playoffs to become just the third player in NHL history to record back-to-back 30-point postseasons. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are the others.

The Lightning also played most of Saturday’s game with five defensemen after Jan Rutta missed the end of the first period and the entire third, and Ryan McDonagh was inadvertently hit in the eye by teammate Erik Cernak’s stick blade and missed part of the second.

Cooper didn’t have an update on Rutta.

“A pretty gutty effort by that D-corps there,” Cooper said. “But … let’s not hit any panic buttons yet. Let’s see what the evaluation is when we get back and go from there. We only have two games (this) week, so it’s probably a good time for a little bit lighter schedule.”

The Lightning have home games against Florida on Tuesday and Colorado on Saturday.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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