The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to close out their first round NHL Playoff series against the New Jersey Devils at Amalie Arena on April 21, and they will do so with a top line that includes leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov. So why is this news?

Speculation soared after Tampa’s Game 4 win in New Jersey that Kucherov could face disciplinary action from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a hit that knocked New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen out of the game. Lightning coach Jon Cooper called the hit “a heck of a hockey hit” in his postgame press conference.

He went on to say that the only negative about the hit was the injury to Vatanen, but that he did not expect Kucherov to be suspended.

First round of playoffs marred by suspensions

The Department of Player Safety agreed with Cooper’s assessment and cleared Kucherov of any wrongdoing for the hit which did not draw a penalty during the game. This year’s playoffs have already seen four player suspensions for hits levied during game action. Nashville Predators forward Ryan Hartman was the latest player to receive a suspension after a hit to the head on Colorado’s Carl Soderberg during Game 4 of that opening round series. Hartman was penalized during the game and will sit out Game 5 of the series.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was the first player to receive a suspension this postseason when he was forced to sit out a game after a hit on Las Vegas forward William Carrier.

Toronto’s Nazem Kadri received the biggest suspension of any player thus far this postseason when he was forced to sit out three games for a hit on Boston’s Tommy Wingels. Kadri will return to action for Game 5 with his team trailing the Bruins 3-1 in the series. Winnepeg’s Josh Morrissey was also forced to sit out a game for a cross check that he threw on Minnesota’s Eric Staal.

Tampa’s top line heating up

The announcement that Kucherov will play in Game 5 came as big news to a Tampa squad that can close out its first round series with the Devils on home ice. The Lightning won the first two games of the series at home, scoring five goals in both games. New Jersey bounced back with five goals of its own in a Game 3 win in New Jersey before Tampa countered with a hard-fought, defensive led, 3-1 win in Game 4.

Kucherov had a hand in all three Lightning goals in the team’s Game 4 victory, scoring twice and assisting on J.T. Miller’s goal that tied the game at 1-1 in the first period. The Lightning forward is tied for second in the playoffs with nine points (4 goals, 5 assists).

After a sluggish start in the first two games of the series, Tampa’s top line of Kucherov, Miller and Steven Stamkos led the team in Games 3 and 4. The line accounted for four of the Lightning’s five goals in those two games and accumulated 10 points. Kucherov led the Lightning with 100 points this season, a number that was good for third overall in the NHL.