Lightning’s victory in Game 3 comes at a cost as Nikita Kucherov is eliminated in third place

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Lightning's victory in Game 3 comes at a cost as Nikita Kucherov is eliminated in third place

TAMPA — As Nikita Kucherov shifted puck control to his right hand and attempted to maneuver Devon Toews late Monday at the Amalie Arena, the Avalanche defenseman checked Kucherov from behind. It staggered the Lightning forward, causing its right side to crunch against the boards.

Kucherov stayed on the ice for a few moments, but he crouched as he returned to the bench and eventually exited the tunnel. The Lightning had already lost Nick Paul for a few minutes in the first half. They’d made it without Brayden Point – scratched after returning for the first two games of the series. But when Kucherov didn’t return, the injury became a concern after the Lightning’s 6-2 win over the Avalanche in Game 3.

“It’s a game, it’s a contact game, but the guys know what they’re doing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said when asked about the Kucherov hit. “Smart, skilled players know what they are doing with their racquet. And we all saw it.”

Cooper gave no updates on the injured players after the game and said he would have that status on Tuesday. Paul’s last shift of the first third ended with his leg awkwardly twisting after a hit on the boards, forcing him off the ice and working with a trainer. He exited the tunnel and did not return to the frame.

However, Paul’s first shift of the second period ended with him raising his arms in the air and pushing his chest toward the crowd – celebrating his shot that extended the Lightning lead to 3-1 after less than three minutes. He returned for the first shift of his line of the second, winning the pass and then netting a centering pass from Ross Colton.

“Came back, nice little shift for us, found me in the slot and ended up going at the back of the net,” Paul said.

Paul said he had no doubts he would return, adding that he “feels good” and “would come back for sure”. Corey Perry was also shaken once after a goal against the gangs behind the net, falling behind and pushing goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper before running onto the bench and being looked at by coaches.

He eventually returned and scored from the power play point inherited with Point out. But with the Lightning’s lines already in flux with Point’s absence, their first win in the Stanley Cup Finals came at a price – especially when Kucherov missed time.

“Guys are obviously broken,” Stamkos said when asked about Paul’s injury, return and goal. “Especially at this time of year.”

Maroon’s offensive blessing

Pat Maroon had already scored his first point since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he collected a Kucherov pass and ran for the goal line. That came on Lightning’s first goal as they tied the Avalanche to 1 before turning that into a three-goal burst.

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But this time, Maroon found himself with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos – two members of Lightning’s top line – because of a gross penalty he took two minutes earlier. Maroon sped out of the box, maneuvered on ice and slotted the puck past Kuemper to give the Lightning a 5-2 lead in the second half.

Maroon’s record forced a goaltender change and secured his first multipoint game since February 23 against Edmonton.

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