Kucherov continues to raise the bar in Lightning’s hottest time

“It means a lot,” Kucherov said. “Not a lot of teams have done this before and to be one of them is great. We are really happy with the result, but we still have a lot of important matches ahead.”

It wasn’t a rowdy, semi-challenged Kucherov who was shirtless on the podium after the Lightning recurrence as the Stanley Cup champions last season and asked the media if, “Are you ready for the main event?” Before his memorable sermon, he combined praise for his teammates with airing grievances as if it were his personal celebration.

Perhaps Kucherov will appear again if Tampa Bay completes its three-point run by defeating the Colorado Avalanche in the Cup Final, which begins at Denver’s Pool Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS) . For now, Kucherov retains his usual personality of a reticent but driven attacking star, which is one of the main reasons Lightning is the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive seasons since the Edmonton Oilers from 1983 to 1985.

Kucherov leads Tampa Bay with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 17 Stanley Cup playoffs after leading the league with 34 points (seven assists, 27 assists) in 25 playoff games in 2020 and 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 23 playoff games last season. The 28-year-old won the Hart Cup as the most valuable player in the National Hockey League in 2018-19 when he led the league with 128 points (41 goals and 87 assists) in 82 games.

But he made his biggest mark during Lightning’s impressive streak of 11 straight wins from the playoff series.

“He was an impressive player,” said coach John Cooper. “He’s got two Stanley Cup rings. I think when teams go that far, every team has that kind of player, and that’s what ‘Coach’ represents. He’s a unique and special talent, but any time you’re the last team standing, there’s One player on each team or maybe two [who is a] gamebreaker, which is one of them for us.”

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Arizona Coyotes coach Andre Torini felt Kucherov had the potential to be one of those players shortly after joining Rowen Noranda of the Quebec Junior Hockey League on a deal with Quebec during the 2011-12 season. A Tampa Bay selection for the second round (#58) in the 2011 NHL Draft, the 18-year-old Kucherov was in his first season playing in North America and had trouble getting consistent ice time under Quebec coach Patrick Roy.

Trade with Rowan Noranda, where Torini was coach and general manager, gave Kocherov the opportunity to unleash his potential. He had 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in 27 regular season games and 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 14 playoffs that season to help the Huskies reach the QMJHL semifinals before losing In front of Halifax, League Final and Memorial. Cup champion.

“He was seeing things that no one else had,” Turrini said. “He was thinking about the game before everyone else. When we had a discussion, it was really next level. He wasn’t like the other young players where you teach the basics and stuff. He was really watching the game with an IQ that far outpaced everyone else, and his training was really fun.”

Although Kucherov has difficulty learning his English at times, Torini said he speaks it “good enough to communicate.” The only thing that stood out in their conversations was Kucherov’s humility.

“Really humble,” said Torini. “He wants his play to speak. He doesn’t want to attract all the attention. He wants it through his play, not through his talk.”

What was also clear to Torini was the competitive nature of Kochrov, which was sometimes both positive and negative.

“I could see how competitive he was, how smart he was, how much of a student he was in a game, how determined he was to be an outstanding player,” Torrini said. “But he had really short limitations on himself in terms of how he wanted to perform and when he wasn’t performing, he was really losing his mind and getting emotional and it was really hard on himself.”

This trait entered Kucherov’s professional career, which began the following season after a short stint with Syracuse in the American Hockey League. lightning captain Stephen Stamkos Remember, Kucherov was, “a quiet kid, who doesn’t speak much English” when he made it to the NHL.

Kucherov was using the Rosetta Stone to help improve his English, but he was constantly working to improve his game.

“You can see that the skill was there, but there are a lot of guys that come in who have the skill and it doesn’t translate to anything,” Stamkus said. “The thing that stuck with it was the work ethic and just being able to have the confidence to try things out.”

Playing on a “three-way” line with the attackers Ondrej Balat And the Tyler JohnsonKucherov helped the Lightning team reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. He had 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 26 playoffs.

But it took until 2020 to finally break through and win the cup.

Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018, losing game 7 of each series. Then, after winning the Presidents Cup as the NHL captain with 62 wins and 128 points during the 2018-19 regular season, Tampa Bay was swept into the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kucherov has been suspended for Game 3 of the series due to the rise to Defender Marcos Notivara Late in losing 5-1 in Match 2.

The sweep was a turning point for Kucherov and Lightning, who have not lost a playoff streak since.

“You look at the frustration of all of us in that series and Coach was one of them because one of the games was suspended out of frustration,” Cooper said. “Now, does that mean that moment changed him? I think there were moments before that, moments later, it all came to fruition for what we have as a player today and that’s just growth. He’s really, really grown.”

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The vision and creativity to deliver plays others might not experience as seen by Tourigny at Kucherov during his QMJHL days that made him special in the NHL. Calm in the midst of chaos, Kucherov makes it seem easy sometimes, like his swipe-back pass from one look to the setting. Ross ColtonThe winning goal with 3.8 seconds left in the 2–1 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the second round, throwing a one-touch backhand to Bales for the winning goal with 41.6 seconds remaining in the 3–2 win in Game 3 against the Rangers.

“Part of what sets him apart is the casual nature with which he can play in a very intense game,” said Dominic Moore, an ESPN analyst and former NHL striker. “I think people notice that in him, the way he moves, the way he plays… being a claw performer for Lightning.”

Torini warns that there is a fierce competitor behind this behaviour.

“There is nothing informal about what he expects of himself and what he wants to do,” Turrini said. “He’ll give a sort of pass without looking or seem casual, but he’s ready for his fights. He’s really competitive. Nothing casual in the way he’s expected to perform.”

Kucherov has ramped up his game since then Brayden Point sustained a lower body injury in Match 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs; He has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 10 games to help Tampa Bay go 8-2 without his top spot, which could return for the first game against Colorado. After the Lightning lost their first two games to Rangers, Kucherov turned the streak with three points (one goal, two assists) in a 3-2 win in Match 3.

“I think it’s important for everyone to step up and up your game, and so am I,” Kucherov said.

Kucherov was in the middle of things again in Saturday’s game six, sending a superb pass over the defender’s man’s blade Kandrey Miller To turn 2-on-1 into a breakaway for Stamkos and green-light goal with 6:32 remaining. The avalanche was undoubtedly watching and preparing for the challenge of trying to contain Kucherov.

Colorado Defense Devon Toze He said. “He likes to kind of get lost behind D, especially when we’re in [offensive] region. He’s kind of starting and trying to find an open space and get the quick hits chances, so we have to be aware of that.”

Kucherov is quick and at times quiet both on and off the ice, evidence of deceptive appearances. “His English is great now,” said Stamkos, so when he doesn’t say much, it’s by choice.

“He bought and it was the kind of transformation I saw that made him a star in this league and why he can up his game at this time of year when it’s so difficult,” said Stamkos. “Because he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Kotsonica and writer Tracy Myers contributed to this story.

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