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First Round

Lightning prepare for Game 3 without Kucherov, trailing Blue Jackets

Callahan likely to replace suspended Art Ross Trophy winner in lineup

by Corey Long / Correspondent

BRANDON, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will not have suspended forward Nikita Kucherov in the lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, SUN).

Already trailing the best-of-7 series, the Lightning will have more adversity to face without Kucherov, suspended one game by the NHL Department of Player Safety for boarding Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara at 15:34 of the third period of a 5-1 loss in Game 2 on Friday. Kucherov, the NHL's leading scorer this season (128 points; 41 goals, 87 assists), was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct.

"We know what to do if everybody's in," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Saturday before Kucherov's suspension was announced. "If he's not in, then we have to change things up a little bit."


[RELATED: Kucherov suspended one game | Complete Lightning vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]


Kucherov is expected to be replaced by forward Ryan Callahan, a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2. Callahan played in the regular-season finale against the Boston Bruins but left with an undisclosed injury. He is fully healthy now, Cooper said.

Callahan, who had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 52 games this season, has extensive Stanley Cup Playoff experience with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 119 games. He played in the Cup Final with the Lightning in 2015 and has played in the Eastern Conference Final four times, three with Tampa Bay and once with the New York Rangers.

"He's a big part of our team," Cooper said. "He's another one that was banged up if you saw the Boston game. We'll have to see where we are healthwise. But if [Callahan] is fully healthy, which he is now, he most certainly can add something to our team."

Though Kucherov has no points in the first two games of this series and one assist in his past six playoff games, he will be sorely missed by Tampa Bay, which must find a way to get back in the series without him. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh suggested there are times when cooler heads need to prevail.

"You just have to control what you can and live to fight another day in that situation," McDonagh said. "It's an uncharacteristic play, you don't see that too often with [Kucherov] as far as taking it out on somebody. But at the same time, we know his passion and how much he cares and he knows how much he means to our team and how he helps make our team successful."

Video: Kucherov suspended one playoff game for boarding

The Lightning expressed confidence they can rally on the road; after tying an NHL record with 62 wins this season, they have not had to face many hurdles, but forward J.T. Miller said they will be ready to fight back in Game 3. 

"This isn't going to be an easy game," Miller said. "It's a really good test for our group. We've been trying to get ready for these situations all season. We can't look at the whole series right now and look at what can happen in the future. You really have to focus on Game 3."

Center Tyler Johnson said the best thing the Lightning can do right now is tighten up their execution, play to their structure and do what's made them successful all season.

"We haven't played a complete game yet in the sense of execution plus our effort," Johnson said. "We're working hard but we're just kind of working stupid. We've just got to relax a little bit, get back to our system, get back to playing the right way and go from there."

Tampa Bay practiced Saturday without defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. Cooper said Hedman was taking a partial maintenance day feeling the effects from physical play in the first two games.

"He got a little banged up last night," Cooper said. "But we're hopeful that he'll be able to go tomorrow."

Stralman has been dealing with a lower-body injury is day to day.

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