The NHL’s Central Division promised fans one of the most exciting series as Nikita Kucherov and the defending Stanley Cup Champions would face their rival the Florida Panthers. The teams played each other eight times throughout the regular season and most fans could not wait and see how it carried over to the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had great news early on. Two of their star forwards, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos would return from the injured list in time for this series. Consequently, the odds of winning the series significantly shifted in the favor of the Lightning. The Bolts played their entire season with arguably their best player, Kucherov, injured.
Series So Far
The Panthers were the second-placed team in the Central and earned home-ice advantage for the first round. That being said, the Panthers failed to capitalize. The Lightning won game one in a high-scoring contest and earned a 2-0 lead when they triumphed again in game two. Now, that the next two games would be held in Tampa, the Panthers had a tough task of coming back in the series.
The Panthers opened the scoring in game three and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Then, the Lightning surged back and took the lead. At the end of two periods, Tampa was up 5-3 and looked like they could take a 3-0 stranglehold in the series. However, the Panthers climbed back and evened the score to force overtime. The Panthers completed the comeback to force a game five on their ice.
Duclair Intentionally Slashes Kucherov
In game four, the Lightning were in cruise control by the third period. The Bolts had a commanding 6-2 lead with around ten minutes to play. As, a line change was going on, Anthony Duclair skates behind Kucherov and slashes him in the knee. Kucherov immediately was holding onto his knee in pain.
Kucherov was playing spectacularly in this series and as mentioned before, he just came back from the injured list. So, many fans expected he would not be at full strength and would not have an impact on the series.
His success aggravated Duclair and the Panthers. Duclair received a two-minute minor penalty, but was it enough? Every first and second-round series will be characterized by scrums after the whistles and barking at the other bench. But, the Panthers in a game they were not even close to winning took an uncalled-for action that will leave Kucherov sidelined.
It is unfair to the Bolts as their star player is yet again injured. While the Lighting have not announced the timetable for Kucherov’s return, he could not put any weight on his left leg.
What further implications does this have on all of the series? Are opponents going to now maliciously hurt star players and follow the actions of Duclair? This is not the hockey that fans love and hopefully this is just a one-time incident and does not escalate into more.