If it were not for the talk about all things Tyler Johnson, then the nation would be talking about the playoffs that Ondrej Palat is having.
After all, Palat has six goals in this post-season himself. He continues to be the glue of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s sizzling Triplets line. He continues to be the balance.
And if it was not for Palat, then people might be talking about Nikita Kucherov. After all, it was Kucherov that ripped the winning goal in from an impossible distance Wednesday night, allowing the Lightning to take a 6-5 overtime victory over the New York Rangers and go ahead in the series 2-1.
Ah, but there is Johnson, who scored yet another goal in the game, bringing his total to 12 goals in only 16 playoff game. And together with Palat and Kucherov, the threesome has turned the NHL palyoffs into a highlight reel. Watch Tyler outrace the world. Watch Palat bang the net. Watch Kucherov flash past everyone.
And then watch it all again.
So far, the Triplets have been amazing. In those 16 games, they have combined for 25 goals and 22 assists. “Scary good,” is the way teammate Brian Boyle refers to them. They always seem to be embracing in front of the net, celebrating another goal by one of them after another pass from another of them. When you consider that Johnson and Palat are 24, and that Kucherov is 21, the future looks to be … fast.
“They do everything,” Johnson said. “You look at Alex. He was playing possessed. He was unbelievable. Kuch is one of those guys when you think he has nothing, he makes something out of it. They make my job so much easier.”
Together, they make coach Jon Cooper’s job easier. Funny how they have come from all over the globe, from different time zones in the Northwest (Johnson), from the Czech Republic (Palat) and from Russia (Kucherov).
They came without warning. Kucherov was drafted in the second round by the Lightning, but Palat wasn’t picked until the seventh round, and Johnson not at all. But the three of them have a shared personality, a chemistry that allows them to function better than most lines in the league.
It took all of it on Wednesday night. The Rangers jumped to a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period, and already, the Lightning was skating uphill. But Steven Stamkos knocked in a rebound to get the Lightning on the board, and then Palat scored, and then Johnson, and then Alex Killorn.
“I was impressed with how we came back after we were down 2-0,” Cooper said. “To me that was — as I’ve grown and we’ve grown together as a team, there was a time early in the infancy of our team that we just would not have come back from that.
But just as the Bolts had come from behind after falling behind by two, it fell from ahead and allowed the Rangers to score two more.
Palat put the Lightning ahead 5-4 with 5:55 to play, but even that wasn’t enough. Dan Boyle, the ex-Lightning player, tied things with only 1:56 to go in regulation.
”Did it suck that we gave up that tying goal? ” Cooper said. “Sure it did. But it‘s the growth of this team. They don’t think oh, poor us anymore. It’s ‘we don’t care. Let’s just go out and win this game,’ and that’s what they did.”
Kucherov ended things only 3:33 into overtime when he blasted a long wrist shot by Henrik Lundqvist. As Kucherov said, in overtime, there is no such thing as a bad shot.
“They’ve impressed me for a long time and now they’re impressing the world,” Cooper said. “It’s fun to watch.”
The Lightning, which had the NHL’s best home record this season, plays for a 3-1 series lead on Friday night against the Rangers. Game Five will be Sunday night in New York.