It's the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning as the last two teams standing in the Eastern Conference. Who will play for the Stanley Cup? We'll soon find out. But first, let's look at who plays for the Lightning.
Name: Nikita Kucherov
Weight: 178 lbs
Born: June 17th, 1993 (22 years old)
Drafted: TB 2nd Round 2011, 58th Overall
2015-16 stat line: 77 games played, 30 goals, 36 assists, 30 penalty minutes
2015-16 playoff stat line: 10 GP, 9G, 3A (not a misprint, 9 goals in 10 games)
2015-16 stats vs Penguins: 3 GP, 0G, 3A
2015-16 5v5 Advanced Stats: 54.4 CF%, 3.9% Corsi Relative, 101.7 PDO
Player detail (via The Hockey News Player Profile)
2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning player usage, via War on Ice
HERO Chart (via Domenic Galamini):
Analysis: With a league-leading 9 goals in the first two series, Kucherov is going from star to superstar in this playoff. Simply put, he's the hottest offensive weapon in the league right now, he's got the full all the tools. He can skate well, score off the rush, lurk in space and make a good shot from distance. Kucherov is an explosive offensive weapon that is capable of powering a team to victory.
Most common line mates: Kucherov is a member of the famed "Triplets" line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat , who all emerged as difference makers in Tampa's run last year to the Stanley Cup Finals. This season Kucherov is usually centered by Johnson, but Tampa has rotated Palat and Alex Killorn as the 3rd member of the line. Right now the Triplet band is back together, but Killorn was playing there at the beginning of the playoffs.
Why you should know who he is: The NHL's leading playoff goal scorer deserves attention and respect. The Penguins are going to need to have Kris Letang on the ice as much as possible.
How the Pens can stop him: Attention to detail. And you can ignore the TOI above in the HERO chart (from a 3 year average), Kucherov's playing 20 minutes a night (and a forward-high 15+ at even), he is getting more ice-time than anyone on the team and being counted on to be their main guy with Steven Stamkos on the shelf with a murky and perhaps unknown return date. Kucherov and Johnson play well off each other and usually dominate possession, it would be beneficial for the Pens (a team not meant to defend but attack) to keep Kucherov off the scoreboard by keeping him out of his offensive zone for as long as possible. "Stopping" a guy who's scored 9 goals in the last 10 games is probably relative here. Much like you can't erase what Alex Ovechkin is going to do, the Pens aren't going to keep Kucherov totally off the scoreboard, but it's going to take a great effort to limit him as much as possible.