Tyler Johnson scores 2 of Lightning’s 4 in second in win over Habs
The points keep piling up for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s surprising line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
Johnson scored twice during Tampa Bay’s four-goal second period and his linemates each had two assists as the Lightning ended the Montreal Canadiens’ six-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night.
The 5-foot-9 Johnson, who wasn’t drafted because teams thought he was too small, moved into third place in the NHL scoring race with 45 points in 41 games.
The trio has been rolling lately. In the past seven games, including six victories, Palat has 13 points, and Kucherov and Johnson have 11 each.
"There’s just good chemistry there," Johnson said. "Things are clicking.
"We know where each other is. Things are just working for us now, which is awesome. The good thing is we know we can be better."
They were good enough on Tuesday to carry the Lightning in the matchup for the top spot in Eastern Conference.
Brett Connolly and J.T. Brown also scored for Tampa Bay (26-12-4), which moved two points ahead of Montreal atop both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
Dale Weise and Max Pacioretty had goals for Montreal (26-12-2), which has two games in hand on the Lightning.
There weren’t high expectations for any of the three players on Johnson’s line before they reached the NHL. All three were acquired in 2011. Kucherov was taken with the 58th pick in the draft, and Palat went No. 208.
However, they have found success together. They admit it helps that Tampa Bay’s top line, led by two-time 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, usually plays against the opponent’s top checking unit and defense pairing.
"He’s the guy you have to worry about," Johnson said of Stamkos. "He takes a lot of attention off us. That makes it a little easier."
Stamkos, the Lightning captain, is impressed by the line’s production.
"(Johnson) is a pretty smart player, and the guy who flies under the radar a bit is Kuch," Stamkos said. "He makes some unbelievable plays.
"Palat is the guy who can put points on the board, but he also grinds it out, goes in front of the net. They know where each other is on the ice. It’s nice to watch."
The Canadiens played their first home game since Dec. 20 after winning five straight on the road, but they didn’t play a smart game.
They had won six in a row overall but they were outshot 36-22. Their streak of 16 straight wins when scoring first ended.
"We forgot the reasons we were having success," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "We didn’t deserve to win.
"We have to put this behind us and get our focus, our work ethic and our discipline back for our next game."
The Canadiens were looking to avenge a 7-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Oct. 13.
They thought they had a goal only two minutes in, but Andrei Markov’s shot hit the inside of both posts and stayed out. Valtteri Filppula was then stopped on a short-handed breakaway by Carey Price.
Montreal didn’t get its first shot until 13 minutes in, but soon after, the Canadiens took a 1-0 lead when Weise was at the far post to redirect Tomas Plekanec’s shot past Ben Bishop at 15:07.
The Lightning tied it 3:17 into the second when rookie Jonathan Drouin hit the post but then got the puck to the net on another chance a moment later. Brown banged in the rebound.
A slashing call on P.K. Subban that Therrien called "undisciplined" led to Johnson’s goal at 10:42 on a feed from Kucherov. A giveaway by Tom Gilbert during a line change led to Connolly scoring on a 4-on-2 rush at 18:16.
Palat poked the puck in through a scramble in Price’s crease on a power play at 19:38.
Pacioretty got one back 5:01 into the third when he went in alone and scored off Bishop’s glove.
Tampa Bay has taken the edge over Montreal in the standings, though the teams are only halfway through the season.
"There’s still a lot we have to work on," Johnson said. "The playoffs are a completely different story. Once we get there, points don’t matter anymore. It’s how you’re playing the game."
NOTES: The Lightning said D Radko Gudas will be out for four months because of a right knee injury. … Filppula played in his 600th NHL game.