Nikita Kucherov's postseason production is a dream

·4 min read

We all know the secret to the Tampa Bay Lightning's success isn't one thing. Instead, the combination of superb coaching, brilliant goaltending, steady and consistent contributions from all corners of the lineup, cap circumvention and experience, toughness and understanding germane to the Stanley Cup Playoffs themselves, is what has driven the organization to a standard of success only a few have been able to achieve.

But if there is one thing that has kept it moving through six consecutive postseason series victories in the last calendar year alone, it's the unrelenting production from those relied on to score the goals — goals which create the advantages, advantages which win the hockey games.

All too often we see star players neutralized, and therefore schemes and complete operations exposed (Hello, Toronto), as the postseason brand presents an entirely new challenge to certain players who dominate during the regular season.

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Against convention, those certain players for Tampa Bay more often than not raise their individual level beyond what's shown in the regular season. And no individual has been more prolific, and more consistent in achieving that, than Lightning striker Nikita Kucherov.

With the Lightning desperate for a win in Game 2 after coughing up the opener to the New York Islanders, it was Kucherov who led the way offensively, contributing three primary assists in a 4-2 win. We can debate the value of primary versus secondary assists another time, but in this case Kucherov was full value for those direct set-ups, creating all three goals with his mastery of the offensive zone.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 15: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on prior to Game Two of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the New York Islanders in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on June 15, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 15: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on prior to Game Two of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the New York Islanders in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on June 15, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

His three points added to the ledger raised his total over the last two postseason runs to an astounding 58 points in 38 games. It's enough for his point-per-game average to rest above 1.5, while he flirts with a production rate that's approaching a half point better than his career regular season average.

What Kucherov is in the midst of accomplishing is really unlike anything we've seen in recent history. There have been bumps in the road. In fact, we saw the worst version of Kucherov in the postseason just two seasons ago when the Lightning infamously crashed out in the first round at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

However, based on his complete body of work, Kucherov has solidified himself as the most prodigious postseason scorer of the last decade with 117 points in 103 games. And there's an argument to suggest that he's never been more dominant than he is right now while on a path to exceeding the single-highest point total over the last decade — his 34 points from last season — with 22 points in just 13 games through two-plus rounds.

Should the Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup Final (which is certainly a sizeable if), it's safe to assume that 30 points is the bare minimum for Kucherov. Should he manage that, he will have authored two of the nine 30-point individual postseason campaigns over the last 25 years. And for more immediate context, Sidney Crosby, winner of consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies, had 19 and 27 points, respectively, or 12 points fewer than Kucherov already, in back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017.

Now that we are well ahead of ourselves, consider this: If the Lightning do match the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in succession this season, there's a possibility that Kucherov's incredible contributions go unrewarded the same way Crosby's were. It might be at the point now where they simply can't be ignored, but after Victor Hedman was recognized as the postseason MVP last summer, Brayden Point is creating a similar case for himself this season as the team's goals leader and the driving force behind its shift-to-shift success.

In areas other than Tampa Bay, there's a level of sour associated with Kucherov's place in this postseason. As discussed ad nauseam already on all platforms, the winger missed the entire regular season after undergoing hip surgery, which allowed the Lightning to stash away his $9.5 million salary and avoid blowing up the operation, before he was re-introduced to the equation for Game 1 versus the Florida Panthers.

Entering the postseason cold makes Kucherov's accomplishments in some ways even more impressive, but it feels like the very strange, perhaps highly questionable circumstances surrounding his season has made it so that his contributions haven't been celebrated in the manner they should.

So here's the advice you didn't ask for.

Direct your frustration toward the NHL, NHLPA or the Lightning organization itself for allowing Kucherov to swoop in when he did, free of charge.

And just appreciate what the greatest postseason scorer in a generation is once again doing when it matters most.

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