The Rangers are learning what Detroit and Montreal have come to know.Tampa's Triplets are as dynamic a line as exists in the National Hockey League.
"They've impressed me for a long time," Lightning head coachJon Cooper said after Nikita Kucherov potted the game-winner 3:33 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 6-5 win over the Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers did not practice Thursday, opting to have media availability at the team hotel.Tampa leads the best-of-seven two-games-to-one. Game 4 is Friday (8 p.m., NBCSN)at Amalie Arena.
"Now,they're impressing the world.It's fun to watch," Cooper said.
Unless, of course, you have to defend against them.Then it becomes something else entirely.
In a wild, back-and-forth Game 3 that was oft-reminiscent of 1980s hockey, the triumvirate of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Kucherov combined for four goals, three assists and seven points.
Through the first three games of the Conference Finals, the Triplets have torched the Rangers for eight goals andeight assists. Much of that has occurred in the last two games, as the line has tallied seven goals, seven assists and 14 points.
"I think it's just [that] Palat and [Kucherov] and I, we can move, we can skate," Johnson said. "That obviously helps.I think the biggest thing is they're both extremely smart players.We like to think that we kind of know exactly what we're going to dobefore we even have the puck, so you don't really have to take that extrasecond to look and think. For whatever reason, we just kind of have thatchemistry with each other, and it's been a blast this year. I've seensome plays that those guys have done that I didn't even think possible, sot's been a lot of fun."
The Lightning as a whole--and thatline in particular--have been able to use their speed and creativity to force the up-tempo Rangers to play at a pace and style that has created significant breakdowns in the neutral and defensive zones.
The Rangers have too often ceded the blue line against the Lightning, and have been caught chasing the puck in the defensive zone. The breakdowns have essentially allowed Tampa's skaters to go one-on-one with Henrik Lundqvist in prime scoring areas.
"I've mentioned many times before, somegames unfold differently," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said after the loss, a game in which the Rangers led 2-1 after the first period. "I mean, you've got the highestscoring team in the league going up against the third highest scoring teamin the league. We've got a 2-1 lead.Obviously, they're going to open things up. They've got some goalsin the second. We had to open things up. Found a way to crawl our wayback and pushed it to overtime. Had some good looks, they had some goodlooks. It was one of those games."