Welcome back, Tyler; Johnson leads big Lightning win

by Gary Shelton on April 16, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson celebrates his second goal in Lightning victory.

Tyler Johnson celebrates his second goal in Lightning victory.

Saturday, 5:30 a.m.

He was a ghost. A memory. A reminder of what the Lightning was like back in the golden days of last year.

Ah, but these are the playoffs, and the lights are bright and the cameras are rolling.

And, why, hello again.

Tyler Johnson is back, and just like the old days, he is a blur. This is the Johnny you remember. This is the player who took over last season's playoffs.

You know, that guy.

It was pleasant enough to see the Lightning run away with a 5-2 victory over Detroit late in Friday night's hockey game. It was warm

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Mike Blunden shows the result of late skirmish with the Wings.

Mike Blunden shows the result of late skirmish with the Wings.

and fuzzy, however, to see the return of Tyler Johnson to the world of the elite players. This was Johnson's moment, the first one he has had in a while, the first time he has reminded the rest of us how special he can be.

There it was, 2-2 in the third period, and Johnson scored one of yesterday's goal, a sudden burst, a flip of the wrists, and the lamp was lit.

Then he scored another one.

Then he had an assist, his fourth in two games.

And the Lightning was celebrating, just like in the old days. You could not help but remember he really got last year's plays kick-started in game two against Detroit. He wound up with 13 goals and 10 assists, and you can still find Lighting fans who would have liked their team's chances better if he had not been injured in the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

A late skirmish left the ice littered with equipment.

A late skirmish left the ice littered with equipment.

Johnson's wrist bothered him when he trained, so he entered the season behind. Then nagging injuries started to plague Johnson, a smaller guy. His goals shrunk to 14. His impact was lessened. A lot of nights, he was a passenger.

But now look at him. This year, on a new Triplets line (Alex Killorn tagging in for Ondrej Palat), Johnson again looks hard to stop. That line has 15 points in two games, and stopping them is suddenly job one for the Red Wings.

Does this make up for a frustrating year?

“I guess,” Johnson said “I mean what we focus on the most is playoffs. That's what we play for, train for. It's the fun part of year. Yeah, it's been frustrating up until this point. But I'm not thinking about that now. I'll think about it this summer.”

His teammates will think about it, thank you very much.

“He's a special player,” said Brian Boyle. “He's puts a lot of it on himself and he's delivered. He's a great guy to have on the team.”

Oh, did the Lightning miss him. If you want to point to the most significant difference between last season and this one, it is Johnson.

“You're learning that last year's playoffs were no fluke,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You think about the trials and tribulations that kid went through in the regular season. It's two games. That line has been fabulous for us. But he just proves it time and time again: When it's a big game, that kid continues to rise through the occasion. I'm glad he's on our team.”

There is something to that, you know. Some players simply shine when the lights are brightest. Michael Jordan. Joe Montana. Reggie Jackson.

Then there is a player like Johnson, who treats the playoffs as if they were a personal highlight film.

“Absolutely,” Cooper said, when asked if he believed certain players responded to the big moments. “That's why guys get the names they get. There's something to be said about guys who rise to occasion. For Tyler, its been a small sample size. You need those guys. When you're missing the likes of (Steven) Stamkos and (Anton) Stralman, someone has to carry the mail. Right now, it's Jonny, and you'd be remiss to mention Killorn and Kucherov. When you say one, you should say all three.”

Look, this series is far from over. There isn't a lot of difference between this year's Lightning and Red Wings. Detroit is a tough place to play, and the Wings could get right back in this.

But when you consider not scores, but play, you have to like the Lightning's chances. The penalty kill is great. Ben Bishop is solid (Tampa Bay is now 31-11-1 when he allows two goals or less). And there is an energy that has taken hold of the team immediately after they have given up goals.

Not only that, but they have Kucherov (three goals in two games), Johnson (two goals and six points) and Killorn (who has scored the final goal both nights).

With those guys, the lights don't seem so bright. The air doesn't seem so thin. The moments don't seem so big.

If they can keep it up, however will Detroit stop them?

Herman takes a point-blank shot at Howard.

Hedman takes a point-blank shot at Howard.

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