When it comes to the Lightning's touted "Triplets" line, coach Jon Cooper always jokes that he wasn't smart enough to put it together initially but now he knows better than to break it up.
Center Tyler Johnson, left wing Ondrej Palat and right wing Nikita Kucherov came together out of necessity Oct. 24 in Winnipeg because of injuries to Brett Connolly, Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan. Since then, the trio has turned into one of the league's most dangerous, dynamic lines, partly due to its uncanny chemistry.
"They sort of have that perfect mix of speed and skill," said Cooper, who coined the nickname. "And it's weird, because they all seem to be on the same wavelength; it's like they're triplets. It seems those three guys are almost thinking for each other, and it's pretty sweet to watch."
Johnson, 24, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, was a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalist last season, his first in the NHL, then an All-Star this year with 29 goals. He leads the NHL with 12 postseason goals. He creates scoring opportunities and plays much bigger than his 5-foot-8 frame.
Palat, 24, a seventh-round pick in 2011, is the engine that drives the line, a power forward who plays 200 feet, digging pucks out of corners and showing deceptive skill.
Johnson and Palat have played together since their AHL days. Kucherov was the missing link. Kucherov, 21, a second-round pick in 2011, is a finisher with a phenomenal shot. He had 29 goals in the regular season and has nine in the playoffs, including two overtime winners.
The trio is known for terrific passing — it also is on the same power-play unit — with a relentless style that made Cooper describe them as "gnats" to opposing teams. Veteran wing Brenden Morrow, 36, said he has never seen a line like it in his 15-year career.
Joe Smith, Times staff writer