Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

As Lightning heats up, so do Triplets

TAMPA — In the Lightning's record nine-game winning streak, so many things have gone right. Because of the streak, Tampa Bay has gone from teetering on the bubble of a playoff berth to atop the Atlantic Division.

What likely was missed early in this never-seen-before stretch was the play of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, better known as the Triplets. They're starting to get going again.

The line has combined to score seven goals in the past three games, including three in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime win against the Hurricanes on Saturday.

It will try to add to that total tonight against the Flyers in Philadelphia.

"We're feeling good, but there's room for improvement," said Palat, who had two goals Saturday. "Last game (against Toronto), we scored, but it was up and down. We talked about it. We needed to have more offensive zone time. We did that (Saturday) finally. We had offensive (zone) possession, and we made some plays."

Last year the Triplets exploded onto the scene in rock-star fashion. They don't look alike, except they are not the biggest players (Palat is listed at 6 feet and 188 pounds). Nicknamed by coach Jon Cooper for how in synch they are on the ice, speed is their weapon, and when they unleash it like they did Saturday, it's a thing of beauty.

Kucherov got the puck and exploded down the right side. Though his backhand bounced off Carolina goalie Eddie Lack, he was able to retrieve the puck in the corner. There, he saw Johnson, who had worked his way to the slot. Kucherov fed him a pass and saw Johnson bury what was the tying goal that sent the game into overtime.

Though they had success last season and provided a second scoring line to the top line led by Steven Stamkos, the trio had not been together much this season. At least it wasn't together a lot in the beginning.

Injuries and callups forced Cooper to constantly juggle his lines, attempting to find the right combination and scoring balance to keep the defending Eastern Conference champions in the playoff race. Since Christmas, as the Lightning has regained its health, Cooper been able to establish some consistent lines. Eventually, he moved the Triplets back together, and now they are rolling again.

Kucherov leads the team in points (53), and is second in assists (28) and goals (25). He has been the healthiest of the three, having played in 63 of the 65 games. Johnson has 30 points on 12 goals and 18 assists, and Palat has 23 points on 10 goals and 13 assists.

"They've kind of been coming," Cooper said of the trio. "They've had some pretty good looks in some of these games. They just haven't been scoring like they feel like they are accustomed to doing. But they're getting their chances, and they were clearly a difference for us (Saturday).

"That's one of the big things. The (Stamkos) line has been doing extremely well for us, but if they're a little off, they have another line to pick them up."

And that makes the Lightning a better team.

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