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Lightning expect Nikita Kucherov to return before Christmas

Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot with his right skate on Saturday

by Bryan Burns /

Good news Lightning fans.

The lower-body injury to scoring leader Nikita Kucherov doesn't appear to be as serious as initially feared.

Kucherov didn't participate in Tampa Bay's practice Monday at AMALIE Arena, but following the training session, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Kucherov could be available to return as soon as tomorrow, although that would seem unlikely.

Video: Cooper on how Bolts have managed big match-ups

"It's not as serious as we may have thought when we obviously saw what happened," Cooper said. "He took a pretty good one off the foot there…I can't sit here and say when he's going to play for sure, but who knows, he could play tomorrow night. I don't know. He'd have to do some pretty good healing, but he's a pretty tough kid."

Kucherov took a John Carlson slap shot from the top of the circles off his right foot. The Russian right winger took a couple strides before falling to his knees on the ice, where he remained for a minute while receiving attention from Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan.

Kucherov eventually skated off under his own power and appeared to try to tough it out on the bench. But after a few moments, he headed down the tunnel to the training room and didn't return for the rest of the game.

Cooper replied "yeah" when asked if Kucherov would be able to play before Christmas.

The Lightning have four more games, starting with Tuesday's home contest against the Ottawa Senators, before the Christmas break.

Kucherov paces the Bolts for assists (24) and scoring (34 pts.). He provided the second assist on Brayden Point's power-play goal at 5:45 of the second period Saturday against Washington before sustaining the injury later in the period.

Tampa Bay received more good injury news from Monday's practice. Tyler Johnson, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, was a full participant during the training session and wore a regular jersey.

Cooper said Johnson, who has seven goals and 14 points in 27 games, could also return for tomorrow's matchup against the Senators.

Video: Johnson on his return to practice

"I think we'll see tomorrow, but we're hopeful he'll be able to play tomorrow," Cooper said.

Johnson said he felt pretty good during practice and didn't feel limited by his injury. He said he'll have to wait to see how the injury responds to today's practice and tomorrow's skate before he can get cleared to play.

"It felt good," Johnson said about practicing. "It sucks sitting out. Anytime you're back with the team, it always feels good."

Also, Braydon Coburn participated in Monday's practice but was limited in a red, no-contact jersey. Cooper said previously Coburn likely won't return until after Christmas.

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