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Lightning 'triplets' Johnson, Palat and Kucherov are a unique blend on, off ice

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, right, celebrates after scoring a goal with center Tyler Johnson and right wing Nikita Kucherov, left, during a game against the Avalanche in February in Denver. [AP photo]
Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, right, celebrates after scoring a goal with center Tyler Johnson and right wing Nikita Kucherov, left, during a game against the Avalanche in February in Denver. [AP photo]
Published Apr. 15, 2015

BRANDON

On the ice, they're so in synch, coach Jon Cooper said they're like "triplets," sparking the popular nickname for the most dangerous line in hockey. • But on the road, Lightning forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov rarely have opportunities to even split a dinner check. • "Kooch loves room service so much, he's lazy, he just stays in the room all day," Palat said with a smile. • The trio is an unlikely union to begin with: Johnson, 24, the All-American "boy next door" from Spokane; Palat, 24, the quiet Czech; and Kucherov, 21, the sneaky funny Russian. They have three different native languages, and personalities, with varying interests in everything from food, music, fashion to off-day activities. • "They're different," Russian center Vladislav Namestnikov said. "Paly is quiet, Johnny is outgoing and Kooch is … Russian." • Yet, Johnson, Palat and Kucherov have formed a close bond, which has translated into their on-ice magic, the perfect blend of speed, skill and hockey IQ. They're in the top four in the NHL in plus-minus, with Kucherov first (plus-38), Johnson third (plus-33) and Palat fourth (plus-31). • "We just click," Johnson said. • "We're similar players," Kucherov said. "We like to play fast and think things the same way."

Maybe opposites do attract. Sure, Johnson, Palat and Kucherov are good friends, but they don't finish each other's sentences, nor do they hang out all the time. They used to all live in the same Tampa apartment complex, a five-minute walk from the arena, until Palat recently bought a house. They all have girlfriends, so they mostly spend time together at the arena or on the road.

Johnson and Palat have been tight since their days with Norfolk in the American Hockey League. The missing link was Kucherov, who joined the line Oct. 24 in Winnipeg after an injury to Brett Connolly. Johnson admits he didn't know Kucherov going into this season because of the Russian's struggle with the English language.

"Last year I don't think I really talked to him more than a couple sentences — he'd either say, 'Yes,' or 'No,' " Johnson said. "It's been completely different with that this year."

Kucherov has a much better grasp of English, thanks partly to learning from American TV shows, helping him take part in the trio's good-natured ribbing.

"On the ice, it's all English, except for cuss words," Johnson said. "That comes back to the natural language."

The Times put the triplets' off-ice chemistry to the test, quizzing them on their interests.

Favorite TV Show

Johnson: How I Met Your Mother

Palat: I'm into Entourage, Friday Night Lights, Dexter

Kucherov: House Hunters

Go-to-meals

Johnson: Know they're not going to say this: my favorite food is sweet and sour chicken. Otherwise I really enjoy steak.

Palat: Johnny eats steak every day. I love pasta.

Kucherov: I like to order room service.

Music

Johnson: I like country. But I'll listen to everything.

Palat: Dance, techno.

Kucherov: I like rap, and Russian music.

Typical off-day activity/hobbies

Johnson: Either golf or video games (FIFA soccer, Call of Duty).

Palat: Relax, go for a walk with my dog, hang by the pool.

Kucherov: Play Xbox, lay on the couch, eat pineapple.

I'd like to vacation...

Johnson: Back home on the lake, or Las Vegas.

Palat: Caribbean; I've never been there, Cuba or Barbados. Greece is very nice, Croatia, Italy.

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Kucherov: In Russia, my hometown. I like to go back home, spend time with my family.

Fashion

Johnson: I don't have any fashion sense. I wear what fits me, jeans and a T-shirt.

Palat: I like fitted clothes, like European style.

Kooch like Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton and stuff like that. Doesn't matter how it looks like, it's just important what the brand is.

Kucherov: I just like those things, some guys like others.

Stats this season

Johnson: 29 goals, 43 assists

Kucherov: 29 goals, 36 assists

Palat: 16 goals, 47 assists

Opposing coach's take

"They're all high, high-end skill. Good determination, good defensively. Palat is a heavy body who gets turnovers all the time from behind, from the front. Kucherov shoots the puck off the pass as good as anyone. They're really good players."

Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings coach

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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