Tyler Johnson (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning needed Tyler Johnson to step up after a so-so regular season, and he showed up big time in Game 2. Johnson scored two goals and three points as the Lightning take a 2-0 series lead to Detroit.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning would have defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final in 2015, there’s a good chance Tyler Johnson would have hoisted the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season MVP. Johnson’s 13 goals and 23 points led the Lightning in the post-season, and it was the continuation of what had been a breakout season for the Tampa Bay pivot.
In the first game of the final, though, Johnson broke his wrist, and he was largely ineffective throughout the Cup final. Tampa Bay will never know what could have been last season had Johnson remained healthy last season, but it appears the 25-year-old pivot is going to do his best to make Lightning fans have a case of deja vu. In Game 2 of the first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, Johnson showed the same playoff form that put him in discussions for the Conn Smythe last season.
As the Lightning looked to go up 2-0 and take a stranglehold of the series against the Red Wings, Johnson came to play. He registered a secondary assist on the Lightning’s first goal, scored the game-winner before the seven-minute mark of the third and then iced the game with a backbreaking goal with five minutes left in the contest. And after a tough regular season in which Johnson struggled to get back up to speed after recovering from his broken wrist, it looks like he’s found his form.
It wasn’t just that Johnson was scoring, though. Every time he was on the ice, it seemed he was inches away from making something happen. The possession in the second game of the series was tilted slightly in Tampa Bay’s favor, but it was Johnson’s line with Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov that took control of the contest. There are few who would object the Lightning were driven by one line — the ‘Triplets’ unit of Johnson, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat — in the post-season in 2015, but the new-look ‘Triplets’ line with Killorn replacing Palat showed they’re every bit as capable of taking over a game. If that’s the case — if the Johnson line can take over — there’s reason for the Red Wings to be worried about their chances of climbing out of the 2-0 series deficit.
And while stopping the Johnson line is one thing, there will be even more reason to be concerned if Detroit coach Jeff Blashill can’t find a way to settle his team down. The series has gotten incredibly heated, and Red Wings winger Justin Abdelkader took a costly penalty early in the contest and was mixing it up throughout the night. It was also Abdelkader who took a fighting major and got a game misconduct with less than a minute left as the game ended with an all-out brawl between the two teams.
Even if Blashill does settle his team down, though, there’s no doubt Game 3 will be just as feisty as the second game of the series was. But the Red Wings are in a must-win situation Sunday, and if the discipline isn’t there and Johnson and his line continue to be dominant, Detroit could be in a three-game hole before their post-season ever really got started.