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Each time Boston’s top line jumps over the boards Dan
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, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on red alert.

Make a mistake and Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak will
make you pay.

”You think it’s going all right and you’re playing well, and they only need
one look,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. ”We knew that. That’s no
surprise. They’re a good line.”

Top lines are lighting up opponents all over the playoffs, ratcheting scoring
up to a pace not seen in more than two decades. Top trios from the Capitals,
Golden Knights, Penguins, Jets and Predators are having their way against top
opposing defensemen. Goals are supposed to be harder to come by in the playoffs,
but after years of NHL rule changes to get goals, goals and more goals, that is
exactly what’s happening.

”Every line Carlos
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, every group of forwards, give different challenges
for defensemen,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. ”It’s the types of reads and
the tendencies of the group and as a series goes on there’s going to be more and
more deception happening from a forward group to our group of defenders and vice
versa. It’s the constant reads and the constant communication and the constant
positioning that you have to have against really dynamic people who are good
collectively or individually.”

Especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s not easy playing good D.

A total of 341 goals were scored through the first 56 playoff games, the most
at that point since 1996 (347). Elite goaltenders are putting on a show, yet top
lines like Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist (Pittsburgh); Alex
Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson (Washington); Kyle Connor, Mark
Scheifele and Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg); Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson
and Reilly Smith (Vegas): and Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson
(Nashville) are taking advantage of their opportunities.

Top lines have been on the ice for 42 of the 78 goals scored through Tuesday
in the second round Patrick
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, a showcase of skill that proves great offense is
beating great defense. So many of the game’s best defensemen are now counted on
as much for their offense as the play in their own end, yet even those tasked
with stopping the stars haven’t been able to do it.

”We’ve got a game plan, but I don’t think we’ve completely executed it yet,”
Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said of containing the Golden Knights’ top
line. ”We’re kind of doing it in bits and pieces.”

The Penguins trail the Capitals 2-1 in their second-round series in part
because they haven’t gotten much offense beyond Guentzel, Crosby and Hornqvist,
plus the goals that top line is giving up to Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.

”They’re pretty aggressive, so there’s some open ice heading the other way
against them,” top Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”You’ve got to defend
hard when they have it and make your plays and have confidence to make plays
when you do have it. If you’re only playing defense against them, it’s going to
be a long night. You have to go on the attack, as well.”

That’s the risk-reward for elite defenders in the playoffs: knowing when to
counterattack. It has worked some for the Bruins, who so far have limited the
damage from Tampa Bay’s J.T. Miller Tyler
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, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and put up some
goals against them.

Bruins defensemen Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy corralled Auston Matthews
and Toronto’s top offensive performers in the first round and continue to draw
the toughest assignments against the Lightning.

”The guys on the ice, that’s their assignment for 15, 18 minutes, whatever
they play at even strength that night,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said.
”There’s no magic formula about following them around or any particular
structure other than Z and Charlie have done a good job of not getting caught up
ice, giving them odd-man rushes for the most part.”

Pittsburgh’s biggest hole through three games defensively – outside of Matt
Murray’s apparently vulnerable glove hand – has been defending the Capitals on
the rush.

”They’re a very skilled team,” defensemen Justin Schultz said. ”You’ve got to
have numbers back and keep your head on a swivel because they’re very
talented.”

It’s not just rush goals, though, as the Jets’ Connor, Scheifele and Wheeler
showed in helping lead a comeback from down 3-0 to beat the Predators 7-4 to
take a 2-1 series lead. Winnipeg and Nashville have combined for 25 goals
despite two Vezina Trophy finalists in net and some of the best defensemen in
hockey. It’s a blueprint for how the NHL wanted to crank up offense.

”I think the mindset is definitely to play well defensively,” Predators
captain Roman Josi said. ”Both teams want to play a good game
defensively Britton
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, and for some reason these two teams seem to bring
the best out of each other and they’re always high-scoring games.”

AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow in San Jose, California, and Teresa M. Walker in
Nashville, Tennessee, and freelance reporter Matt Kalman in Boston
contributed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will try to add some defensive depth over the final
four rounds of the NFL draft.

The AFC North champions spent three picks on offensive help during the second
and third rounds, taking wide receiver James Washington, quarterback Mason
Rudolph and offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor.

The Steelers still need help at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier already
ruled out for the 2018 season while he recovers from spinal surgery. They have
two picks in the fifth round and another in the seventh.

Pittsburgh has been adept at finding diamonds in the rough late in the draft
over the last decade.

The Steelers took All Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown in the sixth round in
2010, drafted starting inside linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round in
2016 and special teams ace Tyler Matakevich in the seventh round in
2016.

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