Nikita Kucherov set to return for Tampa Bay Lightning against Flames

Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov first skated with the team over a month ago. It was his first practice participation since surgery in late October.

Kucherov, 28, hasn’t played since Oct. 16 when he sustained a lower-body injury during a game against the Washington Capitals.

On Oct. 27, the team announced that the two-time Stanley Cup champion had undergone a surgical procedure and would be out eight to 10 weeks. Now he’s been green lighted to return to action.

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Kucherov returning for Lightning

“[Kucherov] is ready to go. I expect him to play,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “This has been building. We’ve been kind of targeting this game as the game he’s coming back. So I guess the really good thing is there’s no step back. Guys are excited tonight.”

Kucherov has one goal and three assists in three games this season, so he will be chomping at the bit to get back at it. Especially since he missed the 2020-21 regular season after hip surgery in December but returned with a flourish in the playoffs, recording 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 23 games to help the Lightning repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

“I think for him, he’s been through it before,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said via “Last year was very impressive because of the sheer amount of games he missed … where he jumped right into the playoffs where the hockey is so elevated.”

nikita kucherov injury
Oct 12, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) stands for a banner raising ceremony to celebrate the 2021 Stanley Cup Champions before a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lightning getting offense from everywhere

Getting three-point games from Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point in Columbus, the Lightning snapped their three-game losing streak Tuesday with a dominating 7-2 rout of the Blue Jackets, ending their two-game road trip on a high note.

Palat scored the game’s first two goals as Tampa Bay cashed in on three of its four power plays, and the Lightning cruised to the win behind 20 saves from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (18-5-3) against the Blue Jackets, who allowed seven goals in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.

Palat’s second goal boosted the left wing to 400 career NHL points, and he added to it with an assist on Point’s goal for a 4-1 lead.

The 10-year veteran has totaled 137 goals and 264 assists in 586 games played.

“It’s humbling. I’m just so happy,” said Palat, 30. “I’m in the NHL. I’m with the same team for so long and we had great success here. I’m helping my team and I would never thought about getting this milestone.”

A seventh-round selection (208th overall) by the Lightning in 2011, Palat joined Joe Pavelski and Patric Hornqvist as the only active players drafted that late or later to reach 400 career points.

Point’s three points pushed him to eight (four goals, four assists) in his five games since returning from his upper-body injury.

In his 35th outing with the Lightning, Corey Perry netted his ninth goal, matching his total in 49 games for Montreal last season.

Flames looking for some wins

The Lightning announced Tuesday that forward Ross Colton had entered COVID-19 protocol.

Calgary coach Darryl Sutter hopes his Flames’ rude welcome to Florida will be an eye-opener.

The Western Conference club will have a chance to redeem its humbling 6-2 defeat Tuesday against the Florida Panthers by facing the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night in their lone visit to the Gulf Coast.

Calgary arrived in Florida looking good, having won two games by a composite score of 11-5. Currently occupying a top-three spot in the Pacific Division, the Flames were sporting the NHL’s second-best goals against average (2.23 per game).

The Panthers’ offense adjusted that number, which rose to 2.35 although the Flames currently still rank second best.

Even without top-six forwards Sam Reinhart (COVID-19) and ex-Flame Sam Bennett (suspension), Florida ran roughshod over Sutter’s bunch in the final 50 minutes by netting five unanswered goals and bruising up the visitors in a dominating win that had an emotional, playoff feel to it.

Playoffs were the furthest thing from the Calgary coach’s mind following the four-goal defeat.

“There’s not a postseason if you play like you did tonight,” Sutter said. “(Florida’s) a different level of team. We’re not there yet. We had some guys that couldn’t take the size and couldn’t take the speed of the other team.”

Johnny Gaudreau scored on a breakaway and Blake Coleman tallied on an odd-angle shot for the Flames, but their problem was helping ex-Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom against Florida, which has scored an NHL second-best 128 goals and is 18-3-0 on home ice.

“That’s a measuring-stick type of game and obviously we didn’t measure up very well today,” left wing Matthew Tkachuk said. “But I think there’s no greater challenge for us than to play the defending champs for two years in a row next game.

“There’s no excuse not to get up for that game.”

–Field Level Media contributed to this report