Step One: Lightning relies on vets to beat Devils

by Gary Shelton on April 13, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson leaps after scoring./JEFFREY S. KING

Tyler Johnson leaps after scoring./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

Tyler Johnson has a fine playoff history./JEFFREY S. KING

Tyler Johnson has a fine playoff history./JEFFREY S. KING

When a team is trying to match the glory of the past, perhaps the old days are  the perfect time to start the quest.

Take, for instance, Tyler Johnson, yesterday's hero. Johnson ripped a page out of his calendar Thursday night when he found the back of the net.

And how about Ondrej Palat, who turned back time with another goal?

And Alex Killorn, who had a hit after his Greatest Hits album?

And Nikita Kucherov, who has spent a lot of time lately being invisible?

Vasilveskiy deflects the puck for another save./JEFFREY S. KING

Vasilveskiy deflects the puck for another save./JEFFREY S. KING

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Braydon Coburn is checked against the boards./JEFFREY S. KING

Braydon Coburn is checked against the boards./JEFFREY S. KING

Together, they all did a bit of time travel in the Bolts' 5-2 playoff series-opening victory of the New Jersey Devils, a team that Tampa Bay had not beaten all season long. But Thursday night, the team jumped Jersey, getting off to a 2-0 lead and enduring a wobbly second period before taking control down the stretch.

Yonny Gourde, the rookie, scored his first playoff goal, too. But if there

Kucherov scored an empty netter at the end./JEFFREY S. KING

Kucherov scored an empty netter at the end./JEFFREY S. KING

was a familiarity to the victory, it was led by the other four scorers, who have had a knack for doing it before.

Over their careers, Johnson, Palat, Killorn and Kucherov have combined for 76 playoff goals. Kucherov has 23, Johnson 22, Killorn 16 and Palat 15. So, yeah, you've seen it before.

“They find a way," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They’ve done it before. Ultimately, it’s the reason they’ve been with us for a long time. They do produce in the playoffs, there’s no question, but they produce for us in the regular season as well.

Palat scored the Bolts' first goal./JEFFREY S. KING

Palat scored the Bolts' first goal./JEFFREY S. KING

"It’s a little bit more magnified here. But those guys are winners. They’re gamers. In the playoffs, they definitely find a way.”

Okay, okay. Calm down. Remind yourself that this is one step on the journey. There will be tough times and desperate times, big moments and big victories. It's what the playoffs are about. The Bolts are fully capable of leading you to the cliff and making you think they're going to jump. And they're capable of blowing an opponent away.

Still, can you wait for the next game? The NHL playoffs are among the most dramatic competitions in sports.

Killorn scored the clinching goal./JEFFREY S. KING

Killorn scored the clinching goal./JEFFREY S. KING

Especially if the Bolts play the way they did on Thursday.

Ask Gourde, who was fired up about his first goal.

"Yanni Gourde is being Yanni Gourde," Cooper said. "He’s not afraid to go anywhere on the ice. He’s just a little water bug out there. He’s hard on pucks, he’s quick on pucks but the big thing is he’s right around the net. I felt for him early because he had some big time chances, that 2-on-1 he had Kinkaid out and he fanned on it, but he kept plugging away and plugging away and he got rewarded on the power play goal."

The Bolts cut down on their sloppy passing through the neutral zone and played a more patient method of attack. Eventually, that paid off when Palat took a pass from Johnson, made three touches and scored after 15 minutes.

Johnson added a second goal with 29 seconds left in the first period on a

Stamkos retured to the ice after his injury./JEFFREY S KING

Stamkos returned to the ice after his injury./JEFFREY S KING

pass from Palat. Palat also assisted on a second-period goal by Gourde.

For Johnson, missing the playoffs a year ago was difficult. He had never played on a team that missed the playoffs, and even now, he jokes about how long the summer was.

“I think the playoffs get everyone going," Johnson said. "It’s a different atmosphere. The crowd's in it that much more. You’re in  it that much more. You’re playing for a goal you’ve dreamt about since you're a little kid. I just love it. I love the environment, the emotion. It makes it a lot more fun."

Cooper has seen Johnson star from the minor leagues on up.

"Ultimately it’s about winning," Cooper said. "When you really look at that run we made in 2015, clearly he was a big part of that, but other guys had to

Gourde scored his first playoff goal./JEFFREY S. KING

Gourde scored his first playoff goal./JEFFREY S. KING

step up as well. It wasn’t him every night. Other guys were chipping in and you never know when that’s going to happen and you never know who’s going to be chipping in. But he’s done it on pretty regular basis, but he hasn’t just done it in the NHL, he did it in the American League, he did it in juniors, he’s just had a knack to come up big in big situations. It’s why he’s here, it’s why he made the NHL and had success."

New Jersey kept pushing and came back to within 3-2 after scoring on a turnover and on a power play, a score that was sure to fray some nerves. After all, the Bolts have struggled to hold down a lead.

The Bolts closed the game out, however, on goals by Killorn and an empty-netter by Kucherov.

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had 29 saves on 31 shots to improve to 5-5 in the playoffs.

Part of that was the job that Brayden Point helped to do on Taylor Hall, the heart of the Devils.

"Matchups are tough, and it’s a little bit more in your favor when you are at home," Cooper said. "As a coach and a team you are trying to put the players out there against the guys that you think they can have success. It was big for us that they scored twice.

"Clearly when you watch Taylor Hall play, he’s a dangerous player, we can’t sleep on (Nico) Hischier and (Kyle) Palmieri, either. They are a good line together. That was a big confidence builder for our guys to get two. I know we gave up one to them, but we kind of gift-wrapped that one for him. But as a whole I felt they did a really good job against them. The other side of that is, other lines had to go out there against them as well, and they did well. But it was a big lift for our guys especially the first playoff game and first period to come out 2-0 was big."

The teams play Game Two of the series at 3 p.m. Saturday at Amalie Arena.

Cirelli is surrounded Bly the Devils./JEFFREY S. KING

Cirelli is surrounded by the Devils./JEFFREY S. KING

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill MYERS April 13, 2018 at 8:12 am

One down and 15 to go! GO BOLTS!!

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Gary Shelton April 13, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Have you started your playoff beard?

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