Wednesday, 4 a.m.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning is going to be able to climb over its competitors, it's going to need a little help.
Like, maybe, from 2015.
And, hey, didn't you used to be Tyler Johnson?
Johnson, the talented but oft-injured forward of the Tampa Bay Lightning, let the league know he was still around Thursday night. He came charging back from your memories, zigging past all the aches and all the zagging past all the pain.
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With the score tied at 2, Johnson scored two goals in 30 seconds — the time of a short commercial — as the Lightning won one of its biggest games of the year, a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Johnny’s been playing hard, and for them to go in the net tonight was huge for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But we showed a lot of passion going to the net in the third. We played really fast. Even Killorn was big on the forecheck on the one where he flicked it around the guy and picked it up. We just had a passion to go and win this game, and it was led by Tyler Johnson.”
Time was, that wouldn't have been an oddity. Remember the 2014-15 season, when Johnson was a blur. He made the all-star team that year, and he scored 29 goals, and he looked to all the world to be a coming star.
In those days, Johnson was a sports car, dashing and darting through traffic, daring the opponent to keep up. Every time he had the puck, he seemed to have space. That was how quick he was on the other side of all the pain.
But injuries have caught up to Johnson the last two seasons. He has only 27 goals in his last two seasons (117 games). In his previous 12 games, Johnson had but two goals.
As fans, we tend to think of injuries as bad luck. But as the saying goes, the best ability is durability. The package that made Johnson so enticing as a player is a small one, and the way he plays means he is damaged from time to time.
But if the Bolts are indeed going to get back in this race, they could use some of Johnson's old flash.
A successful hockey team can find its goals in a lot of different places. Guys like Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin have enough skills. Guys like Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn have enough grit. But time was, Johnson was the guy who turned heads on the Triplets Line.
If Johnson could return to that, then the Bolts could start a push. Oh, it won't be easy. The Lightning are suddenly driving on a crowded highway. Not counting the top three in each division, the Bolts are ninth in the wild-card chase. In other words, the team needs a long winning streak. But have they shown the ability to put that together?
Ah, but that team you saw in the third period Tuesday night? It has a shot. It can get hot enough to break out of this logjam.