Nikita Kucherov avoids suspension for hit as Lightning put away Devils

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherovavoided supplemental discipline for his controversial hit that knocked New Jersey Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen out of Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series on Wednesday night.

With 3:51 left in the first period, Kucherov delivered a high check to Vatanen as he carried the puck into the Lightning zone, sending him into the air and then down to the ice. The Devils defenseman left for the dressing room and did not return as New Jersey lost 3-1 to Tampa Bay.

The NHL department of player safety determined that Vatanen's head was not the main point of contact on the hit, which is a determining factor for "illegal check to the head" rulings.

The Lightning went on to beat the Devils 3-1 in Game 5 on Saturday and advance to the second round.

While the hit was similar in nature to the one that Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty delivered to Vegas Golden Knights forward William Carrier, which earned Doughty a one-game suspension, the league said Kucherov's hit was actually the way Doughty should have delivered his hit to Carrier, rather than making significant contact with his head.

Vatanen did not play in Game 5.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper called the Kucherov check "a heck of a hockey hit" after Game 4 and didn't believe his star winger would be suspended.

"The only thing that's down about that is that Vatanen got hurt. There's hitting in the game. It was a bang-bang play. To me, it was a good hit," he said.

Devils coach John Hynes, meanwhile, declined to comment on the hit.

"It does me no good to get into it," he said.

Kucherov had two goals and an assist for Tampa Bay in Game 4 before adding another goal in Game 5 to put away the Devils.

An MVP candidate in the regular season, Kucherov had 39 goals and 61 assists to break the 100-point barrier for the first time.