Just imagine if an opponent knew a player would play against them in an important game. How would the coaches prepare? How would players react? Such is life in the NHL playoffs, where every knick and every serious injury are shrouded in secrecy. Ahead of the biggest game of the NHL season in which the New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Semifinal is down to one game, Tampa Bay is guarding the status of Nikita Kucherov like a state secret.
On Wednesday, New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield planted Kucherov with a heavy cross-check early in the first period of the Islanders Game 6 OT win.
Kucherov left the ice and did not return. Mayfield did not receive a penalty. Of course, fans and media heaped criticism on the Islanders and the NHL for the play on which the former Hart Trophy winner was injured, including a scathing column by the Tampa Tribune. But the scoreboard doesn’t count opinion.
“No update,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said flatly when a reporter asked on Thursday.
Update: On Friday morning, Kucherov did not participate in the optional morning skate.
Area 51, Fort Knox gold, and hockey Injuries are all shrouded in secrecy and guarded heavily.
Tampa Bay should be used to playing without Kucherov. Despite beginning his skating rehab in later January following offseason hip surgery, the star winger missed the entire regular season. The NHL investigated Tampa Bay for salary cap circumvention because the team kept Kucherov on LTIR for the entirety of the regular season.
Tampa Bay activated Kucherov for the first game of the NHL playoffs. The move allowed Tampa Bay to begin the postseason with a payroll that would have been well over $90 million in the regular season.
Kucherov leads the NHL in postseason scoring. He has 27 points (5-22-27) in just 17 games.
The Islanders face Tampa Bay in game 7 of the NHL Semifinal Friday night at Amelia Arena in Tampa. The loser’s season is over. The winner will face the tight-fisted defensive juggernaut Montreal Canadiens, who upset the Vegas Golden Knights in their NHL Semifinal.
The puck drops tonight at 8 p.m. The game will be on NBCsn.