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Lightning's Kucherov leaves Game 5, status unknown

by Corey Masisak

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov did not return to Game 5 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final on Saturday after he was injured crashing into the Chicago Blackhawks net early in the first period.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper did not have an update on Kucherov after the 2-1 loss.

"Actually I thought he was coming back [in the game]," Cooper said. "I just got word he wasn't going to come back. I don't know. He'll be evaluated probably tonight and tomorrow."

Kucherov is second on the Lightning in goals (10), assists (12), points (22), power-play goals (three) and game-winning goals (three) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Game 6 is at United Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Tampa Bay trails the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Kucherov was injured on a quirky play that could have led to a Tampa Bay goal. Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford tried to play the puck to the left of his net, but his outlet pass hit Kucherov.

As Crawford and Kucherov moved toward the goal line, the Blackhawks goalie was able to keep the puck out of his net, and during a collision between the two players, Kucherov's shoulder, neck and head made contact with the left post. He left after three shifts 5:22 into the game.

"He's a point-per-game guy in these playoffs. He's a big part of our offense," Cooper said. "In a series where goals are at a premium, it's tough when you lose one of your guys. In saying that, though, we battled hard. We got that game tied. You know, it's unfortunate we fell one short in the end. Naturally losing a guy like [Kucherov], you don't want to lose guys like that."

Kucherov, 21, is part of the "Triplets" line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. The line was one of the most productive in the NHL during the 2014-15 regular season and has continued to produce in the postseason.

Kucherov's 10 goals and 22 points are second in the playoffs to Johnson, who has 13 goals and 23 points. Palat has 16 points.

"He's obviously a key part of our lineup," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said of Kucherov. "He contributes on the offensive side of the puck a ton. I'm not going to hide it, he's a guy we missed tonight. At the same time, we had some chances. It's a matter of getting the next one."

Without Kucherov, Cooper was forced to shuffle his forwards for the rest of the game. Tampa Bay has played a lot with 11 forwards in this postseason, but Cooper opted to dress 12 in Game 5 and that became important with Kucherov injured.

Captain Steven Stamkos, rookie Jonathan Drouin, J.T. Brown and Callahan all saw shifts with Johnson and Palat as Cooper rotated his forwards and searched for an offensive spark.

"It's tough," Callahan said. "Everybody is playing the same system, everybody is playing the same style. It's hard. It is what it is."

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