NHL Hockey

Lightning facing uphill task without Kucherov in Game 3 vs. Blue Jackets

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a treacherous 0-2 hole against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their opening round Stanley Cup Playoffs series, and the hole got even deeper on Saturday afternoon.

The NHL Department of Safety suspended Lightning star forward Nikita Kucherov for one game after a hearing on Saturday, forcing him to miss Game 3 on Sunday in Columbus.

Kucherov, who led the league with 128 points, delivered a dangerous hit to Columbus' Markus Nutivaara late in Tampa Bay's 5-1 loss on Friday. The Finnish forward was trying to get back to his feet when Kucherov checked him hard from the side and into the boards.

The Russian winger, who initially tripped Nutivaara, was given tripping and boarding penalties and ejected from the contest with a game misconduct after the hit, which occurred with less than five minutes remaining and the Lightning trailing by four goals.

Kucherov, who has been without a point in both losses, does not have a history of dirty play but lashed out at the vulnerable Nutivaara anyway -- evidence of Tampa Bay's mounting frustration after a great season.

"Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven't. So now we have some adversity and teams face it all the time and they face it in little pieces and this is a five-alarm fire," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper.

"All of the sudden you're down 0-2 at home and alarms are going off."

The Lightning have lost their last four playoff games, dating back to last year's Eastern Conference final when they led 3-2 in the series against the Washington Capitals but were shut out by goaltender Braden Holtby in Games 6 and 7.

The No. 2 wild card in the Eastern Conference, Columbus went to Tampa Bay and earned a pair of wins against the Presidents' Trophy-winning team -- rallying from a 3-0 first-period Game 1 deficit to win 4-3 on Wednesday and then dominating from the outset in Friday's Game 2.

The series set up from the start to be a classic David-vs.-Goliath clash of overpowering skills against overwhelming underdogs.

Tampa Bay crushed the competition on the way to a record-tying 62-win season, matching the Detroit Red Wings' mark for most wins in a season set in the 1995-96 campaign. The Lighting lost consecutive games just twice -- a pair of regulation losses in November and a set of overtime games in February.

Columbus had proven to be no competition at all in the three contests against Tampa Bay in the regular season, being outscored 17-3 and the two closest defeats being four-goal losses -- 4-0 and 5-1.

"We were ready to play. We're just trying to play. We respect the team and know how good they are, but we're just going about our business," said Columbus coach John Tortorella, who led the Lightning to their lone Stanley Cup championship in 2004.

After scoring three goals in the first period on Wednesday, Tampa Bay went through a lengthy goal drought, failing to score in a span of 87:09.

The Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series, were also up 2-0 last year in the opening round against the Capitals. However, Washington rallied for four consecutive wins on the way to its first Stanley Cup.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 14, 2019

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