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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning

Bolts’ top line playing with a lot of heart

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TAMPA — Meet the Heart Line.

Or, with 2004 league MVP Marty St. Louis included on Tampa Bay’s revamped top line, perhaps the Hart Line.

Either way, the line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and St. Louis has been pumping in pucks and providing a boost to a sometimes anemic Tampa Bay offense.

Since being put together last week against Ottawa, the trio has combined for five goals and 13 points in three games, accounting for more than half of the nine goals the team scored in those games. In Tuesday’s shootout loss in Washington, the line accounted for three of the five goals.

Small in stature — Palat is the biggest of the three at 6-foot, 180 pounds — they have made up for that in other areas in the short time together.

“They may not be the biggest in size, that line, but there’s a lot of heart,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They know where to be, they know which side of the puck to be on, they use their speed and quickness to get to those areas and they have a little chemistry going.’’

All three players have high-end speed, smarts and tenacity. They have utilized those assets to their advantage to become the Lightning’s most effective line since being placed together.

“Our speed is probably our biggest asset that we have to use and rely on that heavily,’’ said Johnson, an MVP himself after winning the award in the American Hockey League last season. “It’s just playing with our speed, be in the right position at all times, and just try to battle hard.’’

And it’s not just skating fast.

“We have to play fast, we have to play quick, we have to battle harder and that’s how it works,’’ Palat said. “We have to be active. We have to be hard in the corners.’’

For Johnson and Palat, both in their first full NHL season, getting the opportunity to play alongside St. Louis has been a thrill. Enjoying some success while doing so, that’s even better.

“He’s a future Hall of Fame player. He’s awesome,’’ Johnson said. “He just demands so much respect from everybody and everything that he has done. Being able to be on the same ice with him is truly special and being on the same line is even that much better.’’

St. Louis is somebody Palat always looked up to while growing up in the Czech Republic.

“When I was young I was kind of small, too, so I looked up to him,’’ Palat said. “He was one of my favorite players, so he’s awesome.’’

But that doesn’t mean the two rookies are star-struck playing alongside a two-time league scoring champion. Instead they are thriving and gaining an up-close, crash-course education from St. Louis, who often acts like an extended member of the coaching staff.

Coming back to the bench after a shift often turns into a quick conversation, going over what just took place and what to look for the next time a similar situation arises or correcting something for the next time.

“I don’t know if we’ve had a shift yet where we’ve gone off and not heard something, and it’s really good though,’’ Johnson said. “Palat and I have a lot to learn and being able to learn from Marty is just probably the best thing we can do. He’s the smartest guy on the ice and for us to learn from him and to be able to get some guidance here and there is awesome.’’

That would describe their game in the past week, as well, which provided a needed lifeline to the offense.

“They have a little chemistry going,’’ Cooper said. “They are also going to those areas in which you need to score and we clearly needed this ... and we’re going to need that. And I guess we need more lines to score than just them.’’

Panik suspended for two games

Right wing Richard Panik received a two-game suspension for his hit on Washington defenseman Karl Alzner during Tuesday’s game.

Panik received a five-minute major boarding call for the second-period hit, and the Capitals scored twice on the power play to tie the game at 4 before going on to win in a shootout.

Panik will miss tonight’s game against Detroit and Saturday at New Jersey while forfeiting $7,589.74 in salary that goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. He is eligible to return Sunday in Detroit.

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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