Tampa Bay Lightning expect to have Nikita Kucherov back in time for Cup defense

The 2019 Art Ross winner is expected to be back for Game 1 against Florida on Sunday.


Just in time for their Stanley Cup title defense. 

It looks like the Tampa Bay Lightning are getting a huge part of their team back right as the most important time of the year stars. According to head coach Jon Cooper, superstar forward Nikita Kucherov is on track to make his 2020-21 season debut when his team takes on the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of their first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series on Sunday. 

Kucherov has missed the entire regular season after having hip surgery on December 29.

Additionally, captain Steven Stamkos, who has missed the past 16 games with a lower body injury, is also trending towards playing in Game 1. He finished the regular season with 17 goals and 17 assist in 38 games played.

"We're hoping those guys are going to be good to go," Cooper said. "They're looking good now, so signs are pointing for them to be in the lineup and we hope they will be."

And to add to the good news for Bolts fans, the Lightning expect Victor Hedman (lower body) and Ryan McDonagh (upper body) to return to the lineup. The pair had missed the last two games of the regular season, both losses to the Panthers. 

"They've worked extremely hard to be as prepared as they can and I think they're just anxious to get out there and help us in certain situations all over the ice," McDonagh said. "Especially for Kucherov's sake, he hasn't played hockey in a long time and that guy's passion for the game is pretty incredible. 

"We're anxious to have them back here and thankful to get a few days here and really get some team practices in and work on some different things. In the end, those guys are elite players and know what they need to do and they've been working hard on their own to get prepared here hopefully for a long playoff run."

Kucherov skated on a line in practice with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, while Stamkos skated with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. 

The Panthers and Lightning will square off Sunday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, NHL.TV).