Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he was never concerned about "The Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov failing to keep up the pace they have set throughout much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The second-year coach said the line could breakout at any minute.
Cooper was proven right in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Saturday. The Triplets combined for two goals and an assist in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Johnson scored his 13th goal in the playoffs, a team record, and Tampa Bay tied the best-of-7 series at 1-1. Game 3 will be played at the United Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"They've been outstanding from start to finish," Cooper said. "I don't think that everybody should be judged on your point totals. Correct me if I'm wrong, but [Johnson's] leading the League or darn close in scoring in the playoffs. You can't score every single night. It's really hard, unless your name's Gretzky."
Kucherov was the first Triplet to get on the board in Game 2 when he scored at 6:52 in the second period to tie the game at 2-2. He redirected a shot from defenseman Jason Garrison.
"That was a good job from Garrison to get the puck through and I just tipped it," Kucherov said. "I don't know if [Blackhawks goalie Corey] Crawford saw it or not."
Johnson had a good opportunity in the first five minutes of the first period off a pass from Kucherov but his wrist shot hit the post. It was the type of look and shot that had been going in for Johnson for much of the postseason.
However, Johnson said he wasn't frustrated by not scoring a goal in the past five games and he just wanted to keep generating scoring chances.
"You know, obviously not scoring goals is a tough thing," Johnson said. "At the same time there's a lot more to the game. If you're getting chances, if you're working hard that's all that really matters. As long as the team wins. It's tough when you hit the post when you get that close. At the same time it's bound to go eventually. We just had to keep working."
And Johnson kept working until he scored at 13:58 in the second period with a shot that went off of Crawford's back and into the net. Kucherov was credited with the assist.
"[Kucherov] got it down low to me [and] I was taking it to the net," Johnson said. "I wanted to get in the air, actually find a corner. I couldn't quite do that. I got lucky enough that it kind of trickled in. It's one of those ones that I guess it just goes to the net and good things happen."
Johnson said the line had to play better in Game 2 and it hadn't been as aggressive in creating opportunities as it was earlier in the postseason. If its effort Saturday is a sign of things to come the Lightning should be a better team for the rest of the series.
"I thought we were a lot more aggressive today than we were in Game 1," Johnson said. "I thought Game 1 we were a little bit hesitant making plays. That kind of added on not being able to execute. So I thought [Saturday's] game was a lot better from the line."
Author: Corey Long | NHL.com Correspondent