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Triplets line lifts Lightning again (w/video)

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, front, and Ondrej Palat enjoy Kucherov’s empty-net goal.
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, front, and Ondrej Palat enjoy Kucherov’s empty-net goal.
Published May 13, 2015

TAMPA — Wing Nikita Kucherov didn't see the puck go in the net for the Lightning's third goal, the one that pretty much sealed the third trip to the Eastern Conference final in franchise history.

All he spotted was the joy from Ondrej Palat, and the look on Palat's face that Kucherov should be used to seeing by now.

"Then I realized he was happy," Kucherov said. "I realized it was a goal."

And it was one of three enormous plays one of the best lines in the league came up with in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Montreal in a clinching Game 6.

Kucherov, Palat and Tyler Johnson combined for three of the team's four goals. Though Johnson went without a point for only the second time this series, the line has scored half (17) of the Lightning's 34 playoff goals. That line also has accounted for 14 of the team's 53 postseason assists.

"I've never seen a line with that much chemistry," defenseman Anton Stralman said.

The chemistry was on display early Tuesday night.

With 4:25 left in the first period, Palat blasted a shot from the right circle. Kucherov tipped it in front of the net and past Montreal goaltender Carey Price to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Kucherov's fifth goal of the postseason helped Tampa Bay improve to 6-0 in the playoffs when it scores first.

As important, it was the kind of play the Lightning tried to do all night — attack all over the ice and get shots on goal and traffic in front of Price.

"That's the kind of goal we have to score in the playoffs," Palat said.

Their next connection play was even more impressive.

Palat streaked down the right side and passed to Kucherov, who returned it to Palat on a give-and-go, just as the duo has practiced all season. Palat made a move and tucked it past Price for his third goal of the playoffs.

"Kuch just found me," Palat said. "… I was lucky enough to put it through."

Kucherov added an empty-netter — his sixth goal of the series — that dashed any comeback hopes with 2:01 left.

Palat said his line didn't do anything fancy. It simplified things and tried to recreate the intensity of an elimination game while utilizing the chemistry it has harnessed all season.

"We've tried to play a little more simple in the last couple games," Palat said. "We did that. We just played hard, played smart. That's what we did."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.