The 82 game NHL season is coming to a close and the 2016 NHL Playoffs are just around the corner. With six games remaining, the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied with their cross state rival Florida Panthers atop the Atlantic Division. Both teams have 93 points and both have played 76 games. The initial tie breaker of ROW (regulation and overtime wins) is owned by the Lightning with 41 which is six better than the Panthers 35 but both teams are making their final preparations for the post-season.
As the Lightning get ready for their playoff run, coach Jon Cooper needs to finalize his lines. For the most part, certain players are set in their roles. Working from the center position, Steven Stamkos centers the top line. Tyler Johnson handles the second and Valtteri Filppula anchors the third. On the fourth line is veteran Brian Boyle. Those four should be the in the lineup down the middle.
The unanswered questions become who Cooper lines up with his centers. As a result of injuries to a number of players throughout the season, Cooper has been forced to mix and match his lines for most of this campaign. In fact, Stamkos has been moved at times to the wing because of some of the injuries and the up and down scoring from the team.
For the top line Cooper has a number of choices to line up with Stamkos. Alex Killorn has worked well with Stammer over the last two seasons. As has Ryan Callahan who is expected back after missing a handful of games due to injury, and can complement Stamkos and Killorn well. This may not seem controversial in any way but Cooper has matched up and coming star, Nikita Kucherov with Stamkos for a good portion of the second half of this season.
Having his team’s top two scorers on the same line has worked as Kucherov seemed to ignite Stamkos during a recent nine game winning streak and Stamkos the sniper, became such a threat to pass off to his new Russian linemate making both as dangerous as possible. Despite their success together, it is time for Cooper to try and grab some of last year’s playoff magic. It is time to reunite the Triplets line.
Centered by Tyler Johnson with Ondrej Palat along with Kucherov, the Triplets were the top line in all of the NHL last year. No line scored more or had a better plus/minus than these three last season. Because of injuries to Palat at the beginning of the season and Johnson around the midway point and Kucherov moving up to Stammer’s line, the Triplets have not played together very often. It’s time. In the handful of games that remain with most if not all of the forwards back from the injuries and nicks and scrapes, it is time to bring these three together.
Over the last dozen or so games, Palat and Johnson have been a couple of twins looking for their third. The have been playing with the speed and offensive skills that distinguished the Triplets last year. It has led to more scoring and a relentless fore-check that has put opponents on their heels. Adding Kucherov to that mix and it will be lights out. Since they haven’t played together much, the teams they will initially face in the playoffs won’t be expecting to face these three on the same line.
Even if they do anticipate facing the Triplets, those teams will have to decide which line to put their best shutdown line up against. Stammer’s or the Triplets. It’s pick your poison time. Do they make the conscious decision to stop the world-class scorer in Stamkos and his line or risk the Triplets lowering the boom?
It’s time Coop, to give these three young stars another opportunity to shine in the NHL playoffs. For if the Trips find even a bit of what they showed last season then count on the fast paced breakneck speed in the post-season that will turn heads. Not only will people take notice again, they will light the lamp and put points up on the board.
Cooper has spent some time this year telling his players that “it’s 15-16, not 14-15”. This was meant to get it in the player’s mindset that they cannot throw their skates on the ice because of last year’s success and win games. There is too much parity throughout the NHL for any team to win a game solely on reputation.
To this extent, I agree with Cooper, that was then and this is now. But now, right now it is time to bring the Triplets back home. Welcome them with open arms and let them show the world how much they have improved from one year ago.
The Lightning could be poised for another long, deep playoff run. They have arguably the best goalie right now in the NHL in Ben Bishop. It’s time to reunite these three amigos. To make the statement to any team they face: Here they are, stop them if you can. Because if teams cannot contain them, the Lightning could be playing into June yet again.