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'Triplets' reunion pays off for Lightning

Johnson, Kucherov, Palat shine in Game 2 win against Islanders

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- When Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper decided to reunite "The Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Islanders, it was a bit of a risky move.

The move paid off, however, when Johnson scored two goals in the 4-1 to tie the best-of-7 series at 1-1. Game 3 is at Barclays Center on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). 

Johnson and Palat each had an assist, and the line was a combined plus-6.

"The engine keeps on going and [Johnson] gets another three points [Saturday]," Cooper said. "Remarkably I look at the scoresheet and [Kucherov] wasn't on it point-wise, but he was dangerous all night. Palat was a beast."

Despite the production the line had last season with the three players each scoring 63 or more points, they struggled to find consistent chemistry this season and injuries forced Cooper to split the group up on several occasions.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm2: Johnson beats Greiss with slick shot

"I love playing with those guys," Johnson said. "We were getting some zone time, getting some space, creating some plays and it kind of clicked. Hopefully it can even get better if we stay together."

Johnson and Kucherov skated with Alex Killorn during the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, and the line scored 10 of the Lightning's 12 goals in the series. However, Cooper wanted more secondary scoring and decided to move Killorn to a line with Jonathan Drouin and Valtteri Filppula.

That move worked as well when Drouin scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoffs goal off an assist from Filppula in the first period.

"Well I sit here and look back and say well Killorn came off that line and Palat gets put back on," Cooper said. [But] Killorn goes and plays with Filppula and Drouin and they produce offense."

As well as the Killorn-Johnson-Kucherov line was working, it was clear to see Palat having some difficulties adjusting to more of a goal-scoring role on his new line and couldn't complement the playmaking skills of Drouin and Filppula like he wanted.

Johnson is a natural goal scorer and the chemistry he shares with Palat is undeniable. It was no more evident than on the Lightning's first goal in Game 2.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm2: Johnson seals win with empty-netter

Palat started an odd-man rush after Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Nick Leddy collided into each other while trying to get back on defense. He placed a perfect pass to Johnson, who got behind Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and scored with a backhand shot to beat goalie Thomas Greiss at 6:03 of the first period.

Johnson was colorful in his description of the pass, saying it was like "good, home-cooked Italian pasta."

"[The pass] was right through the triangle there on Hamonic," Johnson said. "I was just lucky to be able to put it in."

The Triplets continued to pressure the Islanders defense in the final two periods and it had an effect on both ends of the ice. The Islanders, clearly exhausted, could not generate the offense to respond. The Lightning outshot the Islanders 21-5 in the game's final 28 minutes.

"When we're using our speed and we're relentless it's annoying to play against," Johnson said. "As long as we're moving our feet and reading off each other it's good for us."

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