TAMPA — They are not the top line on the team. No, not when you have Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who send pucks past goalies this season at a dizzying rate, and Vladislav Namestnikov, who is more than a third wheel on the Lightning’s scoring line.
But take a few minutes and forget about Stamkos, Kucherov and Namestnikov, as Columbus coach John Tortorella suggested Saturday night after the Lightning’s 5-4 shootout victory. What caused him fits was the Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde line.
"I think that Point is one hell of a player, and quite honestly it looks like he’s the heartbeat of that team right now," Tortorella said. "And that line, I guess it’s not their first line, but that’s a good second line."
Maybe not when it comes to scoring, but Palat, Point and Gourde are often the Lightning’s best line.
They are matched with the top scoring line on the opposing team, meaning Lightning coach Jon Cooper is not afraid to send the second-year Point and Gourde, with his less than half an NHL season worth of experience, against the Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins of the world.
"They don’t get the press. Obviously, we’ve got a line that puts a lot of points on the board," Cooper said. "You look at the line that matches up against the big boys all the time and it’s usually that line."
The words tenacious, relentless, tireless and smart are used by those describing the Lightning’s second line.
At 6 feet, 194 pounds, Palat (four goals/nine points) brings size to the line and muscle when the puck is in the corners. The other two — the 5-10, 174-pound Point (seven goals/16 points) and the 5-9, 173-pound Gourde (four goals/nine points) — dart around the ice, fill the holes, force turnovers on defense and create scoring chances on offense.
"As I tell that line, when they’re on their game it feels like there’s four of them out there, not three," Cooper said.
They are puck hounds, Cooper added, who are never out of the play.
"You can watch players in the league and for whatever reason, sometimes you can say it’s luck, the puck ended up on his stick, or he got his stick on it, that’s lucky," assistant coach Todd Richards said. "The good players find a way to be around the puck or the puck just happens to find them. But a lot of time it’s because they put themselves in the right position. Maybe it is anticipation or a lucky bounce, but the puck finds them."
The trio have earned the right to be on the power play and penalty kill.
"Penalty kill is a huge aspect of the game," Gourde said. "It’s fun to be put out there and do the job properly, and do the job right. Same way with the power play. Our first unit has been unbelievable. The second unit, we do the job here and there."
The three didn’t become a line until the final preseason game when Gourde was moved from center to right wing. It didn’t take long for them to click.
When asked to describe the line, Point said, "I think we’re a pretty quick line. We work pretty hard to stay above other team’s lines to help us create turnovers and generate some offense."
When asked to describe the line, Gourde said, "We try to play fast. I think that’s where our success is from. Trying to play fast, shoot the puck, being relentless and not give up on any play. I think that’s the best way to describe us."
When asked to describe the line, Richards said, "They all think the game really well. I think they’re all pretty hard, tenacious workers."
So … fast, relentless, smart.
"When you’ve got those guys who have the big hearts and the determination, you can work with all the other stuff," Cooper said. "All those guys, they’ve got skill and they’ve been a really, really good line for us."