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Kucherov out for tonight's contest in Chicago

Bolts will go with eleven forwards and seven defensemen; Conacher to make season debut

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning will be without their second-leading scorer when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center tonight.

Nikita Kucherov will not be in the Lightning lineup as he continues to recover from an upper-body injury sustained Tuesday in St. Louis. The Russian right winger did not participate in Tampa Bay's morning skate in Chicago Thursday, and Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the skate he wasn't sure when Kucherov would be able to return.

Kucherov is listed as day-to-day.

"Thought he'd be better when he got to the rink today, but he wasn't," Cooper said.

Kucherov was injured late in the second period of Tuesday's 3-1 loss in St. Louis when Brayden Schenn, brother of Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn, delivered a hard check to Kucherov in the neutral zone a split second after Kucherov dumped the puck into the offensive zone, the hit upending Kucherov and sending him down to the ice back first.

Video: Victor Hedman on limiting scoring chances .

As Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak went after Brayden Schenn, sparking a scuffle at the blue line, Kucherov eventually rose to his feet and skated off the ice under his own power, heading immediately down the tunnel toward the locker room.

Kucherov didn't return for the third period, and after the game, the team announced the forward had sustained an upper-body injury.

Kucherov ranks second on the Bolts for goals (T-2nd) and scoring (6-12-18) and third for assists.

With their star player absent, the Lightning will turn to Cory Conacher, who was recalled from AHL Syracuse Tuesday morning. Tampa Bay will also go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen according to Cooper.

Conacher has been recalled from Syracuse twice in 2019-20 but will be making his Lightning season debut tonight.

"I've just got to shoot. I think that's one of my best assets," Conacher said when asked what he needs to bring to the Lightning lineup tonight. "If I focus on making those simple plays early on, I think that'll help me."

Conacher has played 16 games this season for Syracuse, recording five goals and 12 points, ranking fourth on the Crunch for scoring and assists (7). He's played in one game with the Lightning over the past two seasons, that coming in the 2018-19 season opener October 6 versus Florida with Tyler Johnson sidelined. The Burlington, Ontario native has skated in 189 career NHL games.

Additionally, with the Lightning using an 11/7 alignment, Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta will likely return to the Lightning lineup in Chicago. Carter Verhaeghe and Luke Schenn got extra work in after the morning skate and were the last two off the ice, which usually signals those players are scratched.

Coburn has been a healthy scratch the last six games. Rutta has played just three games this season, recording an assist in his season debut October 30 at New Jersey.

Rutta will play for the first time against his former team in Chicago. The 29-year-old defenseman skated in 80 games over parts of two seasons with the Blackhawks before being traded to the Lightning on January 11, 2019.

Also, Curtis McElhinney appears to be the starter in net for the Lightning tonight as he was the first goalie off the ice from morning skate. The Bolts backup netminder is 0-1-0 in five career appearances against the Blackhawks.

Tampa Bay enters Chicago having swept the two-game season series from the Blackhawks each of the last three seasons. The Lightning are on a seven-game win streak and have recorded points in 15-straight regular season contests against Chicago. The last time the Bolts lost in regulation in the regular season to the Hawks came way back on December 13, 2009, a 4-0 defeat in Chicago.

"Anytime you play a team in the Stanley Cup Final, even though it was four years ago, there's a history between the two," Cooper said. "We don't play each other that often. But it seems like every time we do, the game's going down to the wire and it's a pretty exciting one. I would expect no differently."

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