Six different players contributed their first NHL playoff point Wednesday for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but two of those postseason rookies – Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov – could play a significant role in the first round series.
Facing a Montreal Canadiens team that relies on their speed rather than size, much like the Bolts, Kucherov is not forced to use his body, which is considered smaller than most. That means it’s easier for him to find open ice and let his game, based around finesse and quickness, shine.
The Habs also tend to leave the slot unattended, providing the perfect opportunity for Kucherov to score his first playoff goal 10 minutes into the first by gliding into that very area in front of goaltender Carey Price.
“I thought he was an asset to us,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was one of his better games here and you like to see that out of some of these kids, that when they get into situations like this they can elevate their game and I was happy for him.”
Though Kucherov’s goal was an important one, he will also have to make sure he continues to improve his two-way game as well. Cooper said the fact he is even playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, is a “tribute to his development.”
While Killorn’s role on the team is more defined, if he can keep it simple, a theme associated with teams that are often successful in the postseason, he will be monumental to the Lightning moving forward.
“It’s not always going to be a pretty play or a pretty goal,” Killorn said. “A lot of things we did to ourselves last night, we were trying to be a little bit too complicated. Keeping it simple, making smart plays will be beneficial.”
Killorn managed to put that on display Wednesday recording a goal and an assist after stepping in on the top line with Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos for an injured Ondrej Palat.
“Obviously Palat is a big part of our team, but guys have stepped up all season,” Johnson said. “Killorn played a great game. Guys fill-in roles and it doesn’t change in playoffs.”
The first of the two difference -makers from Killorn came off of a rebound that bounced to the opposite side of Price and to Johnson.
“Johnson kind of poked it to me and there was a little bit of a screen,” Killorn said. “I just tried to shoot it as quick as I could and it ended up catching him low blocker.”
The shot became a game-tying goal and his first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The next score went to Stamkos, but again all the credit went to Killorn when he faked a shot before dishing the puck to Stamkos, who finished the play on a wide-open net.
“In my head I kind of committed to the shot, I know Price likes to challenge his shooters,” Killorn said. “But then I saw an opening and luckily Steven put it in.”
BISHOP’S RETURN “NOT ANYTIME SOON”
The past three days netminder Ben Bishop has been out on the ice before the Lightning’s practice. Each day he has put on more equipment and done a little more work with goaltending coach Frantz Jean.
Yet Cooper said, “I don’t think we’ll be seeing Bishop anytime soon.”
If the first round series does go the distance, though, Bishop has not been ruled out.
PALAT A GAME-TIME DECISION
Palat did not practice Thursday and was deemed a game-time decision for Game 2 against the Candiens Friday.
The forward, who led the team in regular season scoring with 59 points, exited Wednesday’s game early in the second period and did not return. He played 14 minutes before being injured.
Cooper said it was not a concussion and that Palat had gone through and passed all necessary tests.