Wednesday, 4 a.m.
Put them on the ice, and lock the gate.
Make them sit together, dine together, skate together.
Tie a rope — loosely — around the three of them … even when they're playing.
Tell Kucherov he's in charge of Johnson, and tell Johnson he's in charge of Palat, and tell Palat he's in charge of Kucherov. No one goes anywhere without the other two.
Whatever you do, do not let the members of the Triplets get away from each other. They are electric … still. They are talented … again. They are fast and deadly and creative … just like they used to be.
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You remember the Triplets, don't you? Individually, they are Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. And even after all this team spent on assorted disappointing lines, they are terrific.
The Triplets were sensational in a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night. Palat had two goals. Kucherov had a goal and three assists. Johnson had two assists. Together, they blended like the Musketeers, flashing around and through the Oilers on their way to a victory. It was the seventh straight game the Bolts have pointed, and suddenly, their playoff chances look promising.
You remember 2014-15, when the Triplets were the highest-scoring line in the NHL. They seemed to have a knack for playing together, Kucherov with his speed and Johnson with his spunk and Palat with his grit.
Well, don't look now, but they're back.
Who knows what took Jon Cooper this long to reunite his charges? Maybe he was making other lines stronger? Maybe he was adding balance? Whatever, when these guys are together, the Lightning has a different energy.
“I’d like to say it was kind of brewing a little bit here,” Cooper said. “We’d been struggling to score goals. We got through a spurt where we scored some and then we struggled to score some.
“The biggest thing for everybody, it’s not so much well you just put them together and all of a sudden the magic starts. It’s playing the right way before that happened. Everybody had been defending really well. When that’s happening and you’re just responsible all over the ice, things kind of open up for you a little bit. All of a sudden now you’ve got the puck more. You’ve got the puck in the right places more and that’s what’s been happening for them.
"I’ve told the guys, you defend the way we need you to defend, but once you get into the offensive zone we give these guys pretty free reign, as long as we’re just not giving up odd-mans the other way. They want the puck, they have the puck. It’s not just those three guys, but the D-pairings with them. Everybody’s getting involved. You know how it is, they’re feeling it. When you’re feeling it, it’s like, ‘Put me back out there coach.’ And they’ve been doing a heck of a job.”
Consider Kucherov, who has 15 shots over the past two games.
Consider Johnson, the one named in all the trade rumors.
Consider Palat, the glue of the three. He scored twice Thursday night.
Kucherov: “They’re great players. Obviously played a couple years ago and last year a little bit. Every time you get that chemistry going, you feel good. It’s nice to have that kind of game.”
Palat: “It's fun when we get rolling.”
Johnson: “It’s been great. We really haven’t had much opportunity to play together the last two years. Maybe a period here and there, but not too many times with the entire game. Now we’re getting some chances. I thought last game we played extremely well. We had a lot of opportunities to score, they just didn’t go in for us. But tonight, they started to go in. We even had more opportunities. We’re just playing our game, trying to contribute as much as possible and luckily for us it’s working right now.”
And do the Three Amigos stay together?
“It’s getting results, so I hope so,” Johnson said. “I like playing with those guys . They’re fun to play with. They’re great hockey players. It makes the game a lot easier for me, and we’re having fun when we’re doing it so it’s exciting. “
It adds up. Kucherov is probably an A player in the NHL, while Johnson and Palat are Bs. Together, they're an A line. They bring out the best in each other.
"They played a hell of a game,” said Oilers' coach Todd McLellan. “They were very good and not only did they give us problems but they gave us problems for the one line that I thought was actually going for our team. After that, it fell off dramatically. We had some very high end players, in my opinion, that were non-existent tonight. After the second period, we are three quarters of a team that didn't even have an attempt at shot on goal, never mind a shot."
For most of the season, the Bolts have tinkered and toyed with their team, as most hockey teams do, trying to find the right mixes and put together the right lines. Who knew it was there all along?
No, the Triplets don't have to account for three goals and five assists a night. For the first time, however, the Lightning can throw a line onto the ice that is something that other teams don't have. For the first time all year, you like their chances.
Tampa Bay got two goals from Palat to start things. But Edmonton sliced the deficit to one. Kucherov gave the Lightning a two-goal lead again with his 22nd goal of the season.
A pair of unusual plays followed. First, Edmonton's Oscar Kiefborn scored a goal, but had it disallowed because the team was offsides. Later, Vlad Namestnikov was awarded a goal when he was hooked while the goal was empty.
The three stars of the game? Palat, Kucherov and Johnson.
Also playing well for the Bolts was goaltender Ben Bishop, who won his fifth straight game.
Tampa Bay is home Thursday night against Calgary.
Maybe the three of them could share a cab.