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Johnson scores twice as Lightning down Canadiens 4-2 to take top spot in East

01/06/2015 10:12 EST | Updated 03/08/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The points keep piling up for the Tampa Bay Lightning's surprising line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

Johnson scored twice in a four-goal second period and his linemates each got two assists as the Lightning ended the Montreal Canadiens six-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night.

The five-foot-nine Johnson, who was never drafted because he was thought to be too small, moved into third place in NHL scoring with 45 points in 41 games.

The unit has been especially hot of late. In their last seven games, including six victories, Palat has 13 points while Kucherov and Johnson have 11 each.

"There's just good chemistry there," said Johnson. "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."

The win put Tampa Bay (26-12-4) into top spot in both the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, two points ahead of Montreal (26-12-2), which has two games in hand.

Brett Connolly and J.T. Brown also scored for Tampa Bay, while Dale Weise and Max Pacioretty replied for the Canadiens.

There were not high expectations on any of the Johnson line before they reached the NHL. All three were acquired in 2011, with Kucherov drafted 58th overall and Palat 208th.

But they have found a recipe for success together, although they admit it helps that Tampa Bay's top line led by two-time 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos usually plays against opponents' top checking units and defence pairings.

"He's the guy you have to worry about," said Johnson. "He takes a lot of attention off us. That makes it a little easier."

Stamkos, the Lightning captain, marvels at the line's production.

"(Johnson) is a pretty smart player, and the guy who flies under the radar a bit is Kuch," said Stamkos. "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 did not play a smart game. The result was they were outshot 36-22 and saw their string of 16 wins when scoring first in a game come to an end.

"We forgot the reasons we were having success," said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "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 (Saturday night at home against Pittsburgh)."

The Canadiens thought they had a goal only two minutes in, but Andrei Markov's shot hit the inside of both goalposts and stayed out. Then the Bolts' Valtteri Filppula was stopped on a short-handed breakaway by Carey Price.

Montreal didn't get its first shot until 13 minutes in, but soon after, they opened the scoring 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 a goalpost, but then got the puck to the net on another chance a moment later and Brown banged in the rebound.

A slashing call Therrien tagged as "undisciplined" on P.K. Subban led to Johnson's goal at 10:42 on a feed from Kucherov, and a Tom Gilbert giveaway during a line change saw Connolly score 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 as he went in alone and scored off Bishop's glove.

A rivalry has been building between the teams, which started when Montreal swept the Lightning in the opening round of playoffs last spring. In their first meeting of the 2014-15 campaign on Oct. 13, the Bolts won 7-1.

Tampa Bay has taken the edge in the standings, although they are only halfway through the season.

"There's still a lot we have to work on," said Johnson. "The playoffs are a completely different story. Once we get there, points don't matter any more. It's how you're playing the game."

Notes — The Lightning announced Tuesday that defenceman Radko Gudas will be out four months with a right knee injury. . . Filppula played his 600th NHL game.

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