Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn has been Lightning's star line

DETROIT — They don't have a catchy nickname like the Triplets.

But the Lightning line of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has taken over this best-of-seven first-round series, a main reason why Tampa Bay is up 2-0 heading into tonight's Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena.

The trio has combined for 15 points and plus-18 in the first two games, scoring seven of the Lightning's eight goals. And the Red Wings are grasping for ways to stop them before it's too late.

"They're dangerous," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said.

"They dominated," Pavel Datsyuk said.

"A hell of a line," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.

Unlike last year's Triplets — Johnson, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat — this version (Triplets 2.0?) played together for only a few separate stretches this season, reunited for the playoffs.

Coach Jon Cooper said the good news and bad news is that Killorn-Johnson-Kucherov have all but one of the team's goals. Ultimately, the Lightning will need secondary scoring.

But for now?

"They're kind of a record-setting pace here, which you know probably won't hold up the whole series," Cooper said. "But they've proven that those guys are playoff players, all of them. I don't see any reason why they'd slow down now.

"You need to ride that wave, and when guys start getting confidence and feel the mojo, you just let them go."

Johnson's game Friday, with two goals and a franchise playoff record-tying four points in a 5-2 win, wasn't much of a surprise, considering his Conn Smythe-caliber postseason a year ago, with 13 goals (six against Detroit). And right behind him was Killorn, who had a breakout playoffs in 2014-15, with nine goals and nine assists, including his how-did-he-do-that redirection in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. Killorn scored the winner in Wednesday's Game 1, another impressive tip. And the 6-foot-2, 198 pound power forward was a force Friday, getting a much-deserved empty-netter in the final minute.

Cooper said Killorn (two goals, two assists, plus-6) has played some of his best hockey with Johnson and Kucherov, so putting them together (while adding Palat to the Jonathan Drouin-Valtteri Filppula line) made sense.

"We've been clicking," Johnson said. "Fortunately we were clicking last year and we're doing the same this year."

Kronwall said the line has the "whole package" — speed, skill, talent, determination. And Kucherov (three goals, two assists, plus-6) boasts a world-class shot, as he showed on Wednesday's rocket one-timer off the rush and Friday's one-timer on a 5-on-3 power play. In what was expected to be a tight-checking series, the Killorn-Johnson-Kucherov line has found space, creating several rushes, allowing them to use their speed. On Johnson's winning goal Friday, Killorn circled behind the net, saying he was lucky he found Johnson's stick with a pass in front near the right post for the tip-in.

"We've found a real chemistry," Killorn said. "Had some big goals here, we just want to keep it going and build on what we've done so far."

The Red Wings will have the benefit in Games 3 and 4 of having the last line change, so they can match up their top defensive pairings or shutdown lines with the Lightning's hottest line. The question is, will it work?

"They're opportunistic," Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin said. "We've got to be tough on them. They get a lot of free space and you have to backcheck hard and play the body a little bit more. We're not making it hard enough on them."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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