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The Wraparound: Can Kucherov deliver in Lightning - Panthers Game 1?

The Wraparound: Can Kucherov make immediate impact for Lightning vs. Panthers?

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 23: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates after scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars during the first period in Game Three of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place on September 23, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• Sunday slate features three Game 1s, beginning with Islanders-Penguins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC.

• Three playoff games air on Monday: two on NBCSN, one on CNBC.

• Want to catch up on each night’s action in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Read the NHL Playoff Buzzer.

The last time Nikita Kucherov played a game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, he collected an assist as they won it all in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Since then, Kucherov underwent hip surgery, which -- along with cap concerns -- kept him from playing a single game during the regular season. As the first-ever series between the Lightning and Panthers, Game 1 would have already been interesting to watch on Sunday. The mystery of how healthy and focused Tampa Bay really is adds another layer of intrigue.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

Along with Kucherov, Steven Stamkos has been dealing with injury issues. There are rumblings that Victor Hedman’s struggles could be, in part, due to wear-and-tear as well. But Kucherov is the most interesting of all, especially since it’s not totally clear when he might have returned to the Lightning mix if the salary cap allowed it.

“Which” Kucherov will the Lightning get vs. the Panthers in Game 1, and during their First Round 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff series in general? The Lightning only know so much themselves, but Jon Cooper has good reason to feel some optimism that he’ll be close to the Kucherov who powered them to such dizzying heights.

“Because he has such a great mind for the game, I don’t think it’ll take him too long to get back in,” Cooper said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “But until you get in the trenches and feel somebody other than your teammates hitting you, there is a difference. And so, hopefully getting through those first couple shifts and he knows what to do, where to go and the feeling of opposing teams’ pressure, and he’ll be fine.”

Considering how impressive the Panthers have been this season, the Lightning might need Kucherov at or near his best.



Game 1: Islanders at Penguins, 12 p.m. ET - NBC (livestream): Earlier this season, the Islanders looked strong, and the Penguins looked wobbly. Yet, heading into Game 1, it’s the Penguins who’ve been hot enough to win the East Division, while the Islanders struggled down the stretch. In recent years, the Islanders have impressed during postseason runs, while the Penguins have disappointed. Which trend will continue?

Game 1: Wild at Golden Knights, 3 p.m. ET - NBC (livestream): No doubt, Vegas has been dominant this season -- it’s no accident that they fell just short of a Presidents’ Trophy. That said, the Wild won their season series against the Golden Knights, making them a trendy pick as an underdog. Add that upset potential to how much Kirill Kaprizov has revolutionized the Wild, and this should be a good one, starting with the Golden Knights hosting Game 1.

Game 1: Lightning at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET - NBCSN (livestream): On its own, the first ever in-state Florida playoff series had some sizzle. But it’s great that this isn’t just something happening by default. The Panthers absolutely belong in this series against the Lightning, even if Kucherov’s return might make Florida the underdog. It should be fascinating, and fun.


Game 2: Bruins at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET - NBCSN (livestream)

Game 1: Predators at Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET - CNBC (livestream)

Game 1: Blues at Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET - NBCSN (livestream)

PHT’s 2021 Stanley Cup previews
Penguins vs. Islanders

Bruins vs. Capitals
Jets vs. Oilers
Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens
Lightning vs. Panthers

Stanley Cup playoff predictions
Why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup this season
NHL odds: Division winners, 2021 Stanley Cup champion
Which NHL playoff series has biggest upset potential?