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Lightning’s power line looks to strike Colorado Avalanche

After the Boston Bruins’ super trio, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov look for more success against Colorado’s concentrated scorers.
Nikita Kucherov teams with Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos to give the Lightning one of the most potent top lines in the league. They'll face off against another "super line" Saturday against Colorado. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 18
Updated Oct. 19

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak? Done, at least for one game.

Now bring on the Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

The Lightning on Thursday faced one of the league’s best lines in the Bruins trio of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, and tonight they get another against Colorado.

It’s an old debate: Do you combine your top scorers into one power line that plays regularly or spread them out?

MORE LIGHTNING: Brad Marchand is up to his old tricks again

Last season the Lightning kept them separate with Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point centering the top two lines. The Maple Leafs do the same with Auston Matthews and John Tavares, as do the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

This year, though, Lightning coach Jon Cooper is using a top line of Stamkos on a wing and Point centering him and Nikita Kucherov on the right.

“I’ve had (a line like that) here for years, so I’m a fan of it, clearly,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “When they’re on, they can dominate and build energy for the rest of the group.”

Cassidy likes the chemistry of his top line, which has played together for a couple of years. He said the rest of the team feeds off it.

Said Cooper, “The one thing is, you can’t forget about the rest of your team.”

The Avalanche got hurt last year because when opponents stopped their top line, they had a hard time winning. That’s how the Lightning beat them twice last year. The first time, a 1-0 win, MacKinnon took four shots, but Landeskog had only two and Rantanen one. In the second game, a 7-1 win, they got shots on net, but only MacKinnon got one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Having all its best scorers on one line opens up a team to tighter matchups. Last season a Lightning opponent had to chose between putting its shutdown line against a line with Point and Kucherov, or one with Stamkos. Now an opponent gets all three at once.

Early in the Oct. 10 game against Toronto, Cooper and Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock chased each other around a bit with a matchup. Babcock wanted the Tavares line against the Point line, and Cooper couldn’t get away from that matchup.

Point, Kucherov and Stamkos combined for three even-strength goals in that game.

But Cooper isn’t afraid to change things up with his top line.

“When they’re rolling, you keep them together,” he said. “When other lines need a boost, they’ll be split up. So far it’s worked for us.”

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh often lines up against opponents’ top lines for the Lightning. He knows getting the matchup a team wants is only the first step.

“These guys, they make passes without even looking at one another,” he said. “It’s a challenge to make sure you make them go the full length of the ice and keep your head on a swivel at all times.”

MORE LIGHTNING: Special teams struggles over-shadowed strong five-on-five play despite the win over Boston

In the 4-3 shootout win against the Bruins on Thursday, the Lightning were able to keep them off the board at even strength. Boston’s top line, which is also its top power-play unit, scored three times with the man advantage.

“We win the game if we get secondary scoring from anybody,” Cassidy said.

That’s part of the “super line” risk.

Babcock likes maintaining balance throughout his lineup, but he said the Lightning are pretty balanced even with their top scorers together. Before the Oct. 10 against Tampa Bay, he wondered if the Lightning had enough pucks to go around. Stamkos, Point and Kucherov had eight even-strength points in that game and 11 overall.

“The reality is you have to do what you think is best for your group,” Babcock said. “There’s no question about it, when it goes real good, whatever you did was right. When it doesn’t go good, what you did wasn’t right.”

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

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