Through a decade with the franchise and now a second Stanley Cup Trophy with his name on it, right-winger Nikita Kucherov has become one of the great players in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Which made him a worthy player for reporters to speak to after the Lightning prevailed in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.
Fresh off his second championship, the Maykop, Russia native came to the podium shirtless and drinking a beer in the afterglow of his team's post-game celebration. And when asked what the emotions of the moment were, Kucherov set the tone for a press conference that won't soon be forgotten.
"I don't know what to say, it's f---ing back-to-back," Kucherov said. "I couldn't sleep for three nights. To be able to win this game is huge."
With the spoils of battle his for the taking, Kucherov let loose in his post-Stanley Cup victory press conference. Specifically, Kucherov ranted about Lightning goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy being snubbed for the Vezina Trophy given annually to the best goalie in hockey. Vasilevskiy has been passed over for the Vezina two years in a row, first in favor of Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets and then this year by Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights.
"Vasy was outstanding -- MVP. I was telling him every day, 'Vasy, you're MVP. You're the best player.' And then they gave it to whatever the guy in Vegas, Vezina. And then last year they gave Vezina to someone else," Kucherov said. "Number one bull----. Number one bull----. Vasy took both Cups, and then he took MVP.
"...He was on his head today, he kept us in the game. Another shutout by him -- remarkable. Can't even tell more."
Kucherov also made a point to stick it to fans of the Montreal Canadiens, who he wasn't impressed with after their victory over Tampa Bay in Game 4 to force a fifth game. The Canadiens' Stanley Cup Finals victory was their first in 28 years, leading to an exuberant response from the home crowd.
"I didn't want to go back to Montreal, but the fans in Montreal -- come on. They acted like they won the Stanley Cup last game," Kucherov said. "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Their Final was last series. OK."
While the first minute or so of Kucherov's press conference was what got everyone's attention, the media session would eventually take a more serious and sentimental tone as he discussed being with his teammates through the highs and lows. Such highs and lows were experienced by Kucherov this season, as he missed all of the regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery before returning in time for the playoffs.
While Vasilevskiy was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy thanks in large part to his five shutouts during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kucherov had a claim to the award as well. Kucherov was the Lightning's leading scorer in their Stanley Cup run with 32 points to his credit.