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Lightning's Palat looks for score values

Ability to take on bigger offensive role will be huge key for Tampa Bay

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat struggled at times to adapt to his new role on a different line during the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Detroit Red Wings.

Normally known as the set-up man on the "Triplets" line with Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson, Palat will need to be more of a finisher on his current line with Jonathan Drouin and Valtteri Filppula.

In the first round, Palat scored one goal, but it was the winning goal in Game 4. Palat knows he'll have to do more in the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Islanders, which begins with Game 1 Wednesday at Amalie Arena (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We had a lot of opportunities to score and we didn't score 5-on-5," Palat said. "And if we're going to go far, we need to have more than [Kucherov] and [Johnson] to score. So we'd love to get on the score sheets more often."

At times, Palat and Drouin look as if they have played together for years, but their timing was off in the first round; Palat was just missing Drouin's passes, or the puck bounced over his stick or he had a clean shot and hit the post.

Video: TBL@DET, Gm4: Palat deflects go-ahead PPG past Mrazek

It's those little things Palat can build on against the Islanders, but those near misses can be frustrating. Palat says the best way to generate those breaks is to stay aggressive.

"Shoot the puck, that's the one thing our line probably didn't do enough is shoot the puck," Palat said. "We have to make good shots and get to the net."

Beyond the need for Palat to do more offensively, he'll also have to be on top of his game defensively and work with Filppula to win puck battles and keep the speedy Islanders from getting into open ice.

"It's going to be a battle," Palat said. "They have [John] Tavares on the first line and they have one of the most talented fourth lines in the league. They can play, they can bang some bodies and they are hard to play against. We have to control the puck and stay in the offensive zone." 

Palat also started slow in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had one goal and two assists through the first nine games but began to warm up midway through the second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens. Palat had five goals and five assists during a seven-game span between the second round and Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper understands how important his secondary scoring lines will be as Tampa Bay goes deeper in the playoffs. In a series in which both teams have talented depth at forward, Palat will need to find the back of the net if the Lightning are to advance.

"[Secondary scoring] is a series-to-series thing," Cooper said. "There are series where guys rise above and push you over the top, and then there are those series where the top lines cancel each other and that's when the secondary scoring comes in."

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