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Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov make a super line

The trio start Thursday’s game together and it’s safe to say that’s a winning combo: Lightning 7, Maple Leafs 3.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98), defenseman Victor Hedman (77), and center Steven Stamkos (91) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Toronto. [COLE BURSTON | AP]
Published Oct. 11
Updated Oct. 11

TORONTO — It’s more like a video game than real life. It’s the kind of line you throw around in conversation: “Imagine if they all played together.”

Well, the Lightning are doing it. They put Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the same line. Three of the league’s top 13 scorers last season are playing together.

Coach Jon Cooper usually puts his three best forwards together late in games when the Lightning need a push, but Thursday was the first time they started a game together, with Point making his season debut against the Maple Leafs after offseason hip surgery.

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Stamkos used the word “excited” in talking about the line before the game. Kucherov called it fun after the Lightning’s 7-3 win.

“It’s so much fun to play with those guys,” said Kucherov, who had two goals and four points. “Hopefully we stay (in this line), score a lot of goals and help the team have success.”

That line put the Lightning (2-1-1) on the board 2:28 into the game and added two more even-strength goals.

Point’s second goal of the game — he had two, and three points total — showed just why the line is so dangerous. He carried the puck out of the zone with speed and fed it to Stamkos, who had all sorts of time and dropped it off for Kucherov. Kucherov then put a shot-pass on net, and Point tipped the puck in.

Stamkos, who had a goal and four points, credited the second Point goal to Point’s use of speed to create time and space. He compared Point to the Oilers’ Connor McDavid in that sense. Cooper said no one has McDavid’s speed but Point is in the category of players who not only have speed but can play with it.

“The energy and the pace (Point) plays with, you have to be skating to keep up with him,” Cooper said. “He’s good for the players around him because his pace of play is so high.”

The Lightning had been building up to using this line since training camp, but they had been waiting on the return of Point, who also missed most of camp while a new contract was negotiated.

Putting the trio together late in games helped the Lightning pull out a few wins last year.

Take the March 25 comeback win over the Bruins. Six minutes into the third period, after the Lightning cut its deficit to a goal, Cooper swapped Tyler Johnson for Stamkos mid shift. A few shifts later, Stamkos set up Kucherov for the tying goal. The Lightning went on to win 5-4 on a last-minute goal from Anthony Cirelli.

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Stamkos pointed to that success while also cautioning that just putting skilled players together doesn’t automatically make a successful line. Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn’t translate to reality.

“The reason we did have success is because we were working hard late in games,” he said. “We have to have that same mentality from the beginning.”

Toronto coach Mike Babcock posed an interesting question before Thursday’s game for the three players who each tallied more than 40 goals last season.

“I’m not sure there’s enough puck to go around,” he said. “We can find out.”

There definitely was Thursday. Both Point goals and one Kucherov goal were at even strength. Stamkos and Kucherov also each landed a power-play goal.

The line combination requires Stamkos to move away from where he is most comfortable, though. He’s a natural center who has only rarely played wing. Point centers the line.

It never hurts to have another center on the ice. Offensively it doesn’t do a lot, but if Point gets hung up getting back into the defensive zone, Stamkos can pick up that responsibility.

The change requires a shift in instincts for Stamkos, though. He’s used to receiving the puck in certain places and is still adjusting to being on the outside.

“But … when you get a chance to play with a Point and a Kucherov,” Stamkos said, “it’s worth it.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

Lightning 4 1 2 7

Maple Leafs 3 0 0 3

First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 1 (Kucherov, Stamkos), 2:28. 2, Toronto, Johnsson 1 (Marner, Matthews), 4:19 (pp). 3, Toronto, Tavares 1 (Kapanen, Holl), 7:46. 4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 2 (Hedman, Cirelli), 11:24 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Shattenkirk 3 (Johnson), 12:45. 6, Toronto, Matthews 6 (Muzzin, Nylander), 17:56. 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 3 (Point, Cirelli), 19:17 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB, (cross checking), 3:16 Spezza, TOR, (slashing), 9:42 Kapanen, TOR, (interference), 13:23 Petan, TOR, (holding), 18:27.

Second Period—8, Tampa Bay, Point 2 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 10:46. Penalties—None.

Third Period—9, Tampa Bay, Palat 2 (Sergachev, Cirelli), 3:56. 10, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 3 (Stamkos), 6:57. Penalties—Kucherov, TB, (hooking), 4:46.

Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-10-9_33. Toronto 13-11-4_28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 3. Toronto 1 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 2-1-0 (28 shots-25 saves). Toronto, Hutchinson 0-0-1 (5-5), Andersen 2-2-0 (28-21). A—19,387 (18,819). T—2:24. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Marc Joannette. Linesmen—Shandor Alphonso, Devin Berg.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Lightning forward Yanni Gourde and the rest of the team have to play with more consistency. The fifth of six consecutive road games takes place Tuesday in Montreal. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    A Stanley Cup favorite beat the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, but a lackluster group fell to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
  2. Ottawa Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki (74) collides with Tampa Bay Lightning centre Alex Killorn (17) and centre Anthony Cirelli during second period of NHL action in Ottawa, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways: Brayden Point shouldn’t be dropping the gloves. Lightning aren’t rolling four lines. Senators’ arena leaves a lot to be desired.
  3. Ottawa Senators center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) attempts to check Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) during first period of NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Tampa Bay drafted Namestnikov in the first round eight years ago. He had two goals and an assist for the Senators.
  4. Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson (41) scoops the puck up in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) as Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev (22) defends during the first period Saturday. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Giving up opportunities off the rush has been a recurring issue for Tampa Bay early this season.
  5. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrates a goal during the third period against the Florida Panthers last weekend in Sunrise. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Slap Shots: Tampa Bay would like to be at home, but as far as road trips go, this one isn’t too bad.
  6. Victor Hedman played his 700th game in Toronto on Thursday. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    Teammates call Hedman the “nicest guy you’ll ever meet” and the “ultimate friend.”
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77), right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrate a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    Tampa Bay takes its shot, over and over again, against the Maple Leafs.
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98), defenseman Victor Hedman (77), and center Steven Stamkos (91) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Toronto. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    The trio start Thursday’s game together and it’s safe to say that’s a winning combo: Lightning 7, Maple Leafs 3.
  9. The Lightning and Mathieu Joseph hope to step up their play on this road trip, which includes top Atlantic Division contenders Toronto and Boston. KARL B DEBLAKER  |  AP
    Two of its fiercest divisional opponents bookend Tampa Bay’s early road trip
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) works the puck through the Detroit zone during the second period of a March 9 game vs. Detroit at Amalie Arena. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    Don’t be surprised if Point is in the lineup Thursday against Toronto.
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