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Kucherov practices with Lightning, status uncertain for Eastern Final

Forward has 'good skate' after being hit in face by stick in second-round clincher against Bruins

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

Nikita Kucherov practiced with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday but it's unclear if the forward will be ready for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

"A good skate," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He was there, participated. As for anything after that, we don't know our opponent, let alone when we're playing."

As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.

The Lightning will play the New York Islanders or Philadelphia Flyers at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. The Islanders and Flyers will play Game 7 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVAS).

Tampa Bay eliminated the Boston Bruins from the second round with a 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday. Kucherov left at 12:48 of the first period after he was hit in the face by a stick from Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. He returned for the start of the second period but left again with 6:55 remaining.

Cooper said he was impressed with the execution during what he called a less-stressed practice after Lightning players had the past two days off.

"When you do that, you just really want guys touching the puck and feeling good," he said. "Obviously there's pretty good spirits out there. Usually after two days off regardless, it's a little bit of a sloppy mess for the first 15 minutes."

The intensity of practice will increase a bit more Friday, Cooper said.

"Today is the physical aspect of things and throughout the next few days we'll work on the mental side," Cooper said. "You don't want to have to wait too long. You just don't want to lose your edge. But at this point right now, rest and recovery is paramount and we're getting that. Those days are like gold, so you have to take advantage of them."

Cooper said the Lightning were in good spirits even with Kucherov's status unknown and the ongoing absence of Steven Stamkos. The forward has been unfit to play in the postseason and Cooper has said he won't give any updates until there is one, though general manager Julien BriseBois told The Athletic on Tuesday that the Tampa Bay captain hasn't been ruled out for a return during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Depth has contributed to reaching the second conference final in three seasons and could remain an asset even if Kucherov isn't ready for Game 1.

"In this league if you want to make any sort of noise, you have to be … it's down the middle right?" Cooper said. "We had [Stamkos] for a long time (at center) but again there wasn't as much depth in that position. And so you get the likes of a Brayden Point, who you can slot in as your No. 1 guy, and then you get the likes of a Anthony Cirelli, so now you've got a little bit of a one-two punch that are pretty good matchup guys. 

"It's a really good luxury to have. [Point's] emergence (18 points; six goals, 12 assists) just allows you to do so much more with your lineup."

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