NHL leading scorer Nikita Kucherov has been suspended for Game 3 of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Kucherov was suspended for boarding Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in Tampa Bay’s 5-1 loss in Game 2 to trail 2-0 in the series. Kucherov was given a major penalty and ejected for hitting Nutivaara in a defenseless position with 4:26 remaining in the lopsided defeat.
The Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning will have to try to win in Columbus on Sunday without the player who put up a league-best 128 points during the season. They also could be without banged-up Norris Trophy caliber defenseman Victor Hedman, who did not practice Saturday.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper says he hopes Hedman can play. But Kucherov is out after what the NHL called a “dangerous hit on a player in an exposed position.”
In a video announcing the suspension, the league said Kucherov’s action falls in the category of message-sending because it came in the final minutes of a one-sided game.