Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper expects All-Star Nikita Kucherov to play in Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday despite an injury concern.

Kucherov exited Game 3 on Monday, as the Lightning won 6-2 over the Colorado Avalanche, with 6:05 remaining in the third period after a push from Devon Toews.

The Russian tangled with Toews after being slammed into the ice and boards and was involved in the ensuing power play but left hobbling for the trainers' room soon after.

"As I sit right now, I think he can play tomorrow," Cooper told reporters on Tuesday.

"But I'm not Kuch. If I know Kuch, he's sitting there saying the same thing. But we'll see what the doctors and everybody says."

Kucherov has been the Lightning's leading points scorer over this season's Stanley Cup playoffs, adding seven goals to his 19 assists.

The 29-year-old has been a creative force for the reigning Stanley Cup champions in important moments this post-season, namely his extraordinary game-winning backhand assist for Ross Colton in Game 2 against the Florida Panthers to set up a 2-0 series lead.

Cooper added: "I think so. I hope so. It's always difficult when the game is 12 hours ago or whatever it was. A lot can happen over the next two days.

"Am I glad there's a day off between games? Yes. We'll see how he is tomorrow."

Cooper said that Kucherov has played through pain before, including in the 2021 playoffs when he had a cracked rib.

The Lightning, who are chasing a rare Stanley Cup three-peat, trail 2-1 in the series after losing both games in Colorado.

Veteran Tampa Bay Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare pointed to the return of urgency as his side levelled the NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals after a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

The Lightning, chase their third straight Stanley Cup, went down 2-0 in the Conference Finals after the Rangers claimed 6-2 and 3-2 wins in the opening two games at Madison Square Garden.

But Tuesday’s Game 4 win followed Sunday’s 3-2 victory at Amalie Arena, hauling the Lightning back into contention.

"I think the urgency," Bellemare said post-game. "We were not happy about the way we played [in the first two games].

"We’re a team that understand when we’re not good and the coaches have been helping us to be better. I think the last two games have been much better for us."

Bellemare refused to point to the Lightning’s lengthy break between series, having swept the Florida Panthers 4-0 in the second round.

"I don’t want to use that as an excuse for the way we played," Bellemare said.

"I don’t think we were engaged enough. Yes, we were off for nine days, but at the end of the day it’s the Conference Finals.

"This is behind us. It’s 2-2 in the series, so that’s good."

Patrick Maroon had fired in a rebound to earn Tampa Bay an early lead, before Nikita Kucherov found space in the middle from Ondrej Palat’s pass to double their advantage in the second period. The goal was Kucherov’s 21st point this postseason.

Steven Stamkos netted his seventh goal of the playoffs, scoring 4:56 into the third period to make it 3-0, before Artemi Panarin pulled one back with a power play goal, only for Palat to fire into an empty net to close out the win.

The victory was Tampa Bay’s sixth in a row at home in the postseason.

"Obviously it’s a little bit easier in front of our fans," Bellemare said. "We’ve got their energy the whole game and we feed on it.

On the Lightning, Bellemare added: "The locker room is really special. It’s the same from the weakest link all the way to the top of the organisation.

"Everyone is thinking the same and pushing in the same direction. It’s really easy to play here."

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper praised his side's ability to stay calm, after they snatched a 3-2 win from the New York Rangers in Game 3 on Sunday.

The Lightning were down 2-0 in the second period after power-play goals from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, but they rallied and Ondrej Palat scored the winning goal with 42 seconds remaining in the game.

After losing the first two games in the Eastern Conference finals, Cooper's side cut the series deficit to 2-1 with the win, keeping their hopes to retain the Stanley Cup alive.

The Lightning coach asserted his side could draw on extensive playoff experience in fighting back from losing position.

"We've been in spots like this," Cooper said post-game. "The big thing for us was, I felt like we had a recipe, we just had to stay with it. I think there are times in this series, we've tried to manufacture things that weren't there, that put us on our heels and gave up opportunities.

"Whether it was a break, whatever you want to call, we weren't in sync. Today we were down 2-0 and I don't want to sit here and say we didn't deserve to be down 2-0 because their power plays have been great, but our five-on-five game I liked.

"We just needed to stick with that and stay out of the box. I think in years past, maybe, panic would have set in at some point – definitely not with this group. No question, being there before, it's really helped us."

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were able to restore parity for the reigning champions, before Kucherov provided the crafty assist for Palat in the final minute.

Game 4 is on Tuesday, with the Rangers looking to make their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2014.

The Tampa Bay Lightning's Ross Colton admittedly could not believe his eyes when he scored the winning goal against the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 victory, to take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series.

Colton was called onto the ice with under a minute remaining in the third period and the score locked at 1-1, but abandoned caution and made his way towards the net as Nikita Kucherov retrieved the puck.

Kucherov found Colton as he approached the net with an astonishing backhand, no-look flick off the boards as the Panthers defence converged onto him, leaving Colton with the relatively simple finish to win the game.

Colton's look of near-bewilderment almost said as much but he confirmed his awe at the 28-year-old Russian's assist afterwards.

“I couldn’t believe he [Kucherov] got it on my stick,” Colton said. “I think when we went in the corner, I just said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ like 10 times because I honestly couldn’t believe he put it on my stick.

"When you’re on the ice with Kuch, you’ve got to be ready for anything. He’s got eyes in the back of his head, because I don’t even know how he could tell I was there."

The Lightning were relentless defensively against one of the NHL's best attacking teams this season, snuffing out four Panthers power plays, including one with under five minutes remaining.

While singling out Kucherov as a "special, special player", Lightning coach Jon Cooper asserted the defensive performance and ability to snatch games in clutch moments was a reflection of the team's character.

“No, I’m not surprised,” Cooper said. “I’m just surprised they waited until 3.8 seconds left to do it.”

In Thursday's other result, the St. Louis Blues evened up their series with the Colorado Avalanche, winning 4-1.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were served with a warning by head coach Jon Cooper after launching their Stanley Cup Finals mission with a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Cooper said his team still had a heap of work to do if they are to clinch back-to-back titles, and borrowed a string of baseball metaphors as he spoke of potential "curveballs" to come.

Two goals and an assist from Nikita Kucherov helped the Lightning to their comprehensive win in Game 1 at Amalie Arena.

Kucherov now has 30 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs for a second straight year, after seven goals and 23 assists. He has 64 points across this season and the previous campaign in the playoffs, a total only ever surpassed in successive playoff campaigns by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

The Russian became just the fifth player in NHL history to achieve multiple 30-point playoff campaigns, following Gretzky (six), Mark Messier (three), Jari Kurri (two) and Lemieux (two).

Cooper sounded a note of caution though, dialling down the euphoria and saying in his post-game news conference: "Consistency is the key.

"You have your plan, you stick with it and you consistently rock it, and if you do that we like our chances in games, but it doesn't guarantee results.

"For us we have found something that works with us. It doesn't mean you're going to win every night, but it's sticking with that process.

"You look no further than the last series we played in."

That was the semi-final against the New York Islanders that went all the way to the seventh game, the Lighting taking a 1-0 win in that decider.

"Teams in this league push you to the brink," Cooper said. "You have to hang in there and stick with it and this group has found a way to do that.

"You're not going to win a series in one night. There's curveballs and sliders and fastballs, and they're all thrown at you at different times, but if you're consistent with your game we trust that good things will happen.

"Tonight was just one, but the series is long from over. We're happy with tonight and now we're just going to improve on what we're doing and try and replicate it in Game 2."

That second game comes on Wednesday night, also in Tampa.

Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson, leading the team in the continuing absence of Dominique Ducharme who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, expects a tighter battle next time.

Richardson said: "The rink was buzzing, and that's something that we will get over and we'll be a little bit more used to next game.

"I think maybe just to strike early for us will be key next game, to try and weather that storm and quiet the building a little bit and let us get a rhythm going."

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