Nothing Nikita Kucherov accomplishes on the ice seems to surprise the Tampa Bay Lightning. Three days after returning from an injury to help the defending champions get back to hockey’s grandest stage, the playoff scoring leader had two goals and an assist Monday night to pace a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“He’s playing like a beast right now,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. Kucherov boosted his postseason-leading point total to 30 (seven goals, 23 assists) in 18 games after missing the entire regular season while recovering from hip surgery. His latest exploits come on the heels of a gritty Game 7 performance in the semifinals against the New York Islanders.
“It was tough mentally not being able to play, but it’s all in the past,” said Kucherov, who missed most of Game 6 against the Islanders after taking a cross-check to the lower back. “I’m really enjoying the moment. Happy to be with the boys. Just excited to play in the Final.” Kucherov put the Lightning up 3-1 early in the third period with a fluky goal that Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot tried to bat down with his hand before it wound up in the net. He scored again at 11:25 of the third, then assisted on Stamkos’ power-play goal that made it 5-1 with just over a minute to go.