What can I tell you? I want To do this I want to urinate myself immediately and thoroughly, curling into a small fetal ball on the ice, playing dead, and hoping for the best. It’s called Opsam Defense and I discovered it. (Okay, maybe the late-career Wade Redden invented it, but I perfect it.)
But you are not me. You’re Aaron Eckblood, the Florida Panthers’ top-ranked defender, the Franz Norris candidate, the former first overall pick. You play hockey for a living, and you’re good at it. You rarely urinate for fear during the game. Even if you match the opponent’s highest scoring line, you rarely get hit and basically never get embarrassed. You’ve internalized the old saw about playing a hip handler’s hips, not the hips. (Defector, Aaron, thank you for subscribing bye.)
Ah, but Nikita Kucherov is something else. He was a breakneck skater, once second to Connor McDavid in the fastest-skater competition. He is a stickhandler of another world. He’s a weird scorer, comfortable in slots or down, so you can’t guess where he’s going. She is completely happy to set up someone else. He has nothing to say about what he’s going to do, and he has open ice, you don’t get any help, and he’s hitting you at about 25 MPH, Aaron. What do you do
Okay, you get to walk. Not ideal.
“It was effortless,” said Lightning coach John Cooper, after Kuchchev found Corey Perry to tip-in the easy-mode after unloading Ecblad’s clothes on the powerplay. “What we’ve always said about Cooch is that he knows what he’s going to do before he’s done with the guy he’s going against. He made that drama easier. “
“It’s a world-class drama, a Heluva drama,” Perry said. “D-Man and the inside-out of the side door. I shake my head from time to time. “
The move was subtle: Kucherov looked to the right and stood up a little, as if he were about to cut through the middle or leave the puck. He did nothing, inside zeptosecond Ekblad bit committed outside. Perhaps Ekblad was wondering what exactly happened 21 seconds ago, when Kucherov, one-on-one with Mackenzie Weiger, actually rushed inside, forcing a flat-footed Weiger to hold him and Tampa to give the man the advantage.
Kucherov later scored a goal of his own, a power-play shot through the traffic to give Lightning some insurance that would eventually lead to a 4-1 win in Game 1. Tampa, the top point-scorer in each of their last two Cup runs, Kuchcherov Florida is going to play a particularly important role in this fight, especially if Braden Point, injured in Game 7 against Toronto and whose return is unclear, is out for some time. So far so good.