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Panthers playoff threat to Lightning, Boucher tells '@TheRink' podcast

Kucherov, Stamkos returning, Hedman playing through injury among challenges on road to Cup repeat

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Brian Boucher respects the Tampa Bay Lightning's chances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they won the Stanley Cup last season but acknowledges their road to repeating could be bumpy even though forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are due back in the lineup.

Boucher, the former NHL goalie who is a broadcaster for NBC Sports, joined co-hosts Dan Rosen and Shawn P. Roarke on the "NHL @TheRink" podcast Wednesday and explained the reasons why the Lightning have their hands full with the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup First Round.

Kucherov hasn't played all season because of hip surgery he had Dec. 29. Stamkos missed the last 16 games of the regular season with a lower-body injury.

"I am concerned," Boucher said. "Although they are coming back and although that's great news, especially Kucherov, he's going to try to catch a moving train here and their first-round opponent in Florida, they're a good team. They've had a fantastic season and (coach) Joel Quenneville has got that team playing well, so this is not a layup first-round matchup for them. There is going to be some rust, timing-wise in Kucherov, even as great a player as he is, so that's a concern for me. Stamkos, you've got to always be concerned about his health. We saw last year was a hard year for him and now the injury this year."

Boucher said another concern for the Lightning is defenseman Victor Hedman, the potential Norris Trophy favorite this season who didn't play the last two games because of a lower-body injury.

"It sounds like he's going to require offseason surgery, so he's clearly got something going on and will he be the Victor Hedman that we're accustomed to seeing?" Boucher said. "This is not the same team that was humming in the bubble last year."

Boucher is optimistic about the Vegas Golden Knights' chances, especially because of their goaltending. Vegas has alternated starts between Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner since March 29 and Boucher said he doesn't see a problem with keeping that model in the playoffs.

"You can't go wrong on this one," Boucher said. "There are other situations where I've laid it for you on who to play, but this one you cannot go wrong. Both these guys are fantastic goalies. Man, you could just rotate them if you wanted to. That's literally the luxury that (coach) Peter DeBoer has in goal. I don't see any issue there."

Boucher also doesn't foresee Fleury or Lehner making it an issue if he's not playing.

"Both guys want to play, there's no doubt about it, but if they're not playing, they're going to be ready," Boucher said. "They're both professional enough to know their team is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. There's no reason to bellyache. The situation is what it is. 

"DeBoer, he can close his eyes and throw a dart at the board and whoever it lands on starts that night and he'd be perfectly fine."

Boucher also gave opinions on a number of other topics, including thoughts on why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, what he thinks will happen with Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres, and why the New York Rangers fired coach David Quinn on Wednesday.

The podcast is free, and listeners can subscribe on all podcast platforms. It is also available on NHL.com/multimedia/podcasts and the NHL app.

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