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Dmitry Kulikov suspended 2 games for hit on Lightning’s Conor Sheary

TAMPA — Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov received a two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Lightning forward Conor Sheary during Tampa Bay’s 5-3 win Saturday in Sunrise.

The Lightning were leading 4-0 with less than four minutes remaining in the second period when players from both teams battled in front of the Tampa Bay net. Sheary was looking down trying to gain possession of the puck when Kulikov skated by, running his right elbow into Sheary’s head and knocking him to the ice.

The puck rolled into the slot, where Florida defenseman Josh Mahura beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with a shot through traffic. But after a review by the officials, Kulikov was assessed a match penalty, resulting in his ejection from the game, and the goal was disallowed.

During a hearing with Kulikov on Monday, the NHL’s department of player safety ruled that while seeing Sheary in a “vulnerable position, Kulikov ignored the puck entirely and instead leaned into the hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact on a hit (in which) head contact was avoidable.”

Both elements of the illegal check to the head rule were met, according to the department of player safety’s findings: that the head is the main point of contact on the play and the hit was avoidable. It was determined that even though Sheary was turning slightly to make a play on the puck, Kulikov could see Sheary turning and adjusted his own path to lean into Sheary to purposely deliver the hit to his head.

Kucherov earns weekly award

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov was named the NHL’s first star for the week ending Sunday. His seven points (two goals, five assists) in two games, both wins, tied him for the league lead for the week with Chicago’s Connor Bedard.

Kucherov had five points (one goal, four assists) in a 6-3 win over the Rangers on Thursday. During that game, he became the second active player with three seasons of 70 or more assists, joining Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (six times).

On Saturday, Kucherov reached the 40-goal mark for the third time in his career with two points (one goal, one assist) in a 5-3 win over the Panthers. He joined Steven Stamkos (six) as the only Lightning players with three or more 40-goal seasons.

Kucherov entered Monday with 114 points (40 goals, 77 assists) this season, two behind league leader Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado.

Sergachev back on the ice

Less than seven weeks after suffering broken tibia and fibula bones in his left leg on Feb. 7, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev resumed skating He did a light ice session before Monday’s practice at TGH IcePlex.

Sergachev isn’t expected to return before the end of the regular season, and general manager Julien BriseBois said he won’t be ready by the beginning of the playoffs, which are scheduled to start on April 22. But he would be on pace to potentially help the Lightning if they get deep into the postseason.

“He’s making progress, that’s the great thing,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “I think it’s great for his mental state, too. He’s improving, and I can’t believe it’s been six weeks. So, good on him. Hopefully, he keeps progressing here.”

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