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Cooper may again call upon 'Triplets' in Game 4

Lightning coach could switch lines for spark if necessary against Penguins

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper tapped into his safety valve in the third period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday and it worked.

The Lightning were struggling, down 1-0, and coming off a brutal second period in which they were outshot 21-6, so Cooper went to "The Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

They had two goals in what was a 4-2 loss.

Although the offensive spark didn't result in a win, it might have been enough to spring Kucherov and Johnson to life in this series, which might be the best thing the Lightning have going for them heading into Game 4 at Amalie Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Lightning trail the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Kucherov had assists on the goals by Johnson and Palat. He had no points and two shots on goal in the previous eight periods and 40-second overtime in the series after scoring nine goals and 12 points in the first two rounds. Johnson also had no points and three shots before Cooper put him back with Kucherov and Palat in the third.

"We'd gone two periods without scoring, we weren't getting a ton in there," Cooper said. "We put those guys back together, and they gave us a little bit of a boost. So you're just looking for different things that work and guys that have a little bit of chemistry together. Fortunately, they do."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Palat blisters one-timer past Murray

They do because they've played so often together and had so much success, particularly last season and into the Stanley Cup Final. Palat said there is no adjustment time needed when Cooper taps them on the shoulder to go over the boards together because they know each other so well.

"When I'm on the ice with them, it's just automatic," Palat said. "I think it's just the confidence we have together. I know exactly where Kuch and Johnny are going to be. We trust each other. That's the biggest thing."

However, it doesn't mean Cooper is going to start Game 4 with the line intact.

The Lightning have gotten this far without having to tap into that safety valve often. Instead, it's been Alex Killorn on a line with Johnson and Kucherov, and Palat with Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin.

For two rounds and through Game 1 against the Penguins, that top-six forward group worked well and had combined for 57 points, including all three goals and six points in Tampa Bay's 3-1 win in Game 1 against Pittsburgh.

"When we're clicking and scoring goals it's good, especially with me, [Drouin] and [Filppula]," Palat said. "I think our four lines look good when we're playing the way we're supposed to play."

The Lightning have gotten thoroughly outplayed and outshot the past two games, which is why their top two lines haven't looked good and why Cooper went back to "The Triplets" for the third period in Game 3.

"You're trying to help, just trying to find ways," Cooper said. "Because it's worked with those guys in the past, we wanted to go back to it."

But again, this is a safety valve for him, so there's a chance he could start Game 4 with his original top-six forward group and adjust from there if need be. The hope would be that Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov would click again, and that Drouin, who struggled in Game 3, would find his game again with Filppula and Palat.

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