The Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed a foothold in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final with a Game 3 victory, but it might have come at a cost.
Nikita Kucherov was banged up in the contest against the Colorado Avalanche, and it may affect him going into Game 4.
The 29-year-old did not return to the ice after the hit, and there was no update on his status after the game from the Lightning staff.
Tampa Bay without Kucherov, or with him hampered on the ice, could shift the balance of the series back in Colorado's favor.
The Lightning played without Brayden Point for the last two rounds of the postseason, but losing the Russian could hurt them just as they try to get back in the series.
Colorado suffered just its third postseason defeat on Monday night. The Avalanche have responded well to losses so far in the playoffs and need another good rebound performance to set up a clinching scenario at home in Game 5.
Stanley Cup Game 4 Odds
Money Line: Colorado (-110), Tampa Bay (-110)
Puck Line: Colorado (-1.5; +230); Tampa Bay (+1.5; -275)
Tampa Bay Could Be In Trouble Without Kucherov
The Lightning did not have an update on Kucherov's lower-body injury after Monday's game.
However, head coach Jon Cooper and defenseman Victor Hedman did comment on the hit from Devon Toews that twisted the player's leg, per Sportsnet.
"You're looking for an answer that everyone in the building already knows. It's a game. It's a contact game, but guys know what they're doing," Cooper said. "Smart, savvy players know what they're doing and we all saw it, so we'll see."
"We'll see if anything happens," Hedman added. "Probably not."
Tampa Bay has played without its stars before in this postseason and through its two previous Stanley Cup runs.
Steven Stamkos was hurt for most of one of the title runs, and Brayden Point missed the last two series with an injury suffered in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Losing Kucherov, who has been the team's best forward during the two title runs, would be a major blow to a team that just regained the momentum in the series on Monday night.
Tampa Bay has 24 hours to figure out what to do about Kucherov's injury, but for now, it appears the team may be more short-handed for Game 4 as it tries to level up the series.
Colorado In Rare Bounce-Back Position
Colorado entered the Stanley Cup Final with a 12-2 postseason record.
It swept the Nashville Predators and the Edmonton Oilers in the first and third rounds, respectively, and beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in the second round.
The Avalanche have not lost consecutive games in the playoffs and rebounded from losses in Games 2 and 5 to the Blues. Both of those defeats came on home ice.
The Western Conference champion bounced back in both situations with road victories in Games 3 and 6 in St. Louis, so it has an idea of what the scenario will be like on Wednesday night inside Amalie Arena.
Colorado's issue in Games 3 and 6 against St. Louis is that it conceded the first goal and then proceeded to come back and win.
The Avalanche can't afford the Lightning to score first and snatch the momentum in their favor, especially if they are without Kucherov and Nick Paul, who was also injured in Game 3.
Colorado needs to learn from those past two games against the Blues and find a way to score first to suck all of the energy out of the home crowd.
The Avalanche eventually did that in St. Louis, so if they can find a way to score first and maybe net multiple first-period goals, they could come away with a bounce-back win.
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