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Kucherov return could reunite 'Triplets' line

Lightning forward back in lineup against Devils

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

LIGHTNING (34-22-4) at DEVILS (30-25-7)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; SUN, MSG+, NHL.TV

NEWARK, N.J. -- Right wing Nikita Kucherov will be in the lineup against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Friday, and he was looking forward to returning to the "Triplets" line if given the chance alongside Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.

Kucherov, who missed two games with a lower-body injury, skated with Palat and Johnson during practice Wednesday and Thursday. Kucherov was one of 12 players participating in an optional morning skate on Friday.

"I don't like being in the stands and watching," Kucherov said. "I want to be with the guys and play with them every time. But being able to watch from the top and see everything happen that you can't see from the bench, was good too. But I do want to be in there to help and am looking forward to playing."

Kucherov leads the Lightning with 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists). He will wear plastic protective caps that go over each skate as a precaution.

Kucherov was injured in a 4-2 win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and missed games at the Carolina Hurricanes and against the Arizona Coyotes. The Lightning have won four straight.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is the likely starter for the Lightning, who are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 72 points. Bishop is 4-2-0 with a 1.46 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in six games against the Devils. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has a goal in four straight games. He leads Tampa Bay with 26 goals this season.

"I don't think we're at the level we were heading into the (Stanley Cup) Playoffs last year firing on all cylinders but we got 20 games left to do that," Stamkos said. "We're on the right track, we've put a few wins in a row here and we're trying to focus on playing the right way and keeping pucks out of our net. We know we have the offense that can get hot at times but we can't sacrifice our defense when we're doing that, so I think we've realized that the past couple of weeks and we're getting back to where we were last year."

The Devils, who lost 6-1 at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, did not conduct a morning skate.

The fourth loss in five games kept the Devils one point behind the Penguins for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Penguins hold three games in hand on the Devils.

"The Devils are one of the best defensive teams, and they don't give up a lot," Stamkos said. "We know they played [Thursday] and didn't have the game they wanted so they're going to come out hungry."

Devils goaltender Cory Schneider allowed three goals on 11 shots in the first period and was pulled for the second time this season in favor of Keith Kinkaid, who allowed three goals on 13 shots. Schneider said after the game he would like to play against the Lightning.

Hynes wouldn't commit to Schneider following the loss against the Blue Jackets.

"After a game like [Thursday] you don't want to [rush] decisions," Hynes said. "We'll just let it sit for a little bit and try to make the decision that's going to, hopefully, give us the best chance to win [Friday]."

Here are the projected lineups:

Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Cedric Paquette
Jonathan Marchessault - Vladislav Namestnikov - Brian Boyle

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Matthew Carle - Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop
Kristers Gudlevskis

Injured: Jason Garrison (lower body), Joel Vermin (hand)
Scratched: Matt Taormina, Erik Condra

Joseph Blandisi - Adam Henrique - Lee Stempniak  
Reid Boucher - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri  
Sergey Kalinin - Jacob Josefson - Tyler Kennedy  
Tuomo Ruutu - Stephen Gionta - Jordin Tootoo

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson  
John Moore - David Schlemko  
Jon Merrill - Seth Helgeson

Cory Schneider  
Keith Kinkaid

Inured: Michael Cammalleri (right hand), Stefan Matteau (facial fracture), Patrik Elias (right knee), Jiri Tlusty (right wrist)
Scratched: Bobby Farnham, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson

Status report: Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was re-assigned to Syracuse in the American Hockey League on Thursday in order to get some starts. Syracuse plays Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gudlevskis was recalled to back up Bishop. … Vermin was activated off injured reserve and re-assigned to Syracuse. … Garrison, who has missed the past eight games, could return to the lineup in a week. … Coburn, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was signed by the Lightning to a three-year contract on Friday. … Hynes will confirm any lineup changes a few hours before faceoff.

Who's hot: Callahan has three goals and nine points in the past 10 games. … Zajac has two goals and eight points in the past 11 games.

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