Welcome back! Kuch leads Bolts’ victory

by Gary Shelton on January 7, 2022

in general

Kucherov returned to the ice Thursday./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 3 a.m.

The team picture is now complete. The Tampa Bay Lightning are back.

The missing piece, Nikita Kucherov, returned to the ice Thursday night, and immediately, the Lightning looked like a more creative, more dangerous hockey team. Their vision was better. Their talent was increased.

The Bolts have played well in the absence of Kucherov, but something about the team was obviously missing. Then Kuch came back with a pair of nifty assists to lead the Bolts to a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames

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.It was only Kucherov's fourth-regular season game in the last two years -- although he was strong during last season's playoffs. But evidently, Kucherov doesn't believe in such a thing as rust.

"Do I think he played well? I do," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Do I think he has better than that? I do. Do I think he’s an elite talent? I do. For him to miss as much time and come in and play a big, fast team and do the things he did, he's elite. He’ll be the first  to tell you he's got more in the tank. The timing is a little bit off for him. He’s only going to get better when he gets his legs under him.

"He’ll be looked at as a skilled player, but he’s a gamer. He was smart with the puck. He wasn’t being risky. That’s what he does. it’s one thing being off a week.This is two years in a row he’s been out months and steps in makes an impact."

Kucherov was polite but short when talking about himself.

"It's never easy," Kucherov said of the absence. "It gets harder and harder."

The Bolts got goals from Corey Perry, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn in the win. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 of 27 shots for his league-leading 19th win.

The Bolts are home at Amalie Arena Saturday night against Boston. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

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