When you think of the month of April, you typically think of April showers, Easter, nice weather, and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps it’s time to add Tyler Johnson dominating the Detroit Red Wings in the postseason to that list of April traditions.
Johnson tallied the game-winning goal 6:32 into the third period and tacked on an insurance goal with 5:12 remaining, while also adding two assists in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-2 victory over the Red Wings in Game 2 of their first round series at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay now leads what has become a contentious and feisty series 2-0 going into Sunday’s pivotal Game 3 in Detroit. Johnson’s four points tied the franchise record for most points by a player in a playoff game, a record set by Vinny Lecavalier in 2011 against Boston. He now has eight goals and 13 points in nine playoff games against the Red Wings in his career. Nikita Kucherov also added a goal and an assist, while Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn tacked on goals. Ben Bishop finished with 30 saves in picking up the win for the Lightning. After the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper gushed about Johnson rising to the occasion in the playoffs again.
“You’re learning that last year’s playoffs were not a fluke,” said Cooper in reference to Johnson’s Herculean efforts against Detroit. “That line (Killorn, Johnson, and Kucherov) has been fabulous for us. Time and time again, when it’s a big game, that kid rises to the occasion.”
The opening period of Game 2 had an eerily similar feel to the first period of the series’ first game, as the Red Wings raced out to a 5-0 shot advantage in the first several minutes and had the Lightning on their heels, aided by an early man-advantage. But as the period went on, Tampa Bay settled into a groove and started to show some life after Bishop kept the Lightning in the game with multiple key saves early on. After some quality chances on their first power play yielded no goals, the Bolts continued to plug away and found themselves on another man-advantage with 5:40 left in the period as Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist went to the penalty box for slashing. Just 27 seconds later, Justin Abdelkader took a tripping penalty, giving the Lightning an extended 5-on-3, and it didn’t take them long to make the Wings pay. Kucherov ripped a one-timer from the left wing off the crossbar, and just moments later, shifted over to the right wing. He got another pass and blasted another one-timer, this one beating Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard top shelf to put the Lightning up 1-0 with 5:13 left in the period. It was Kucherov’s third goal of the series, as Victor Hedman and Johnson got the helpers. That goal sent Tampa Bay’s effort into overdrive, as they swarmed Detroit for the rest of the period. Matt Carle nearly scored when his centering pass into the Wings’ crease bounced off a Detroit skate and trickled wide. With under a minute left in the period, Jonathan Drouin nearly put the Bolts up 2-0 when he took a pass from Valtteri Filppula, got behind the Red Wings’ defense, and fired a shot off the crossbar. Detroit held a 15-12 edge in shots at the intermission, but the Lightning clearly had all the momentum heading into the second period.
The second period devolved into a parade to the penalty box, with the Lightning leading the way to the sin bin in the later stages of the period. However, it would be Tampa Bay getting an early man advantage, as Dylan Larkin was called for hooking 1:12 in, just moments after Kucherov had his stick disrupted on a 2-on-1 chance. After the power play was killed off, Jonathan Ericsson tried to find Larkin with a long stretch pass that just eluded the Wings’ star rookie. However, Larkin continued the pursuit and followed the puck after it took a strange bounce off the end boards in front of Bishop. Larkin took a shot that trickled through Bishop’s legs at the 3:30 mark, tying the game 1-1 on a goal that Bishop probably should’ve had. It was the first playoff goal of Larkin’s career, with Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall getting the assists. Tampa Bay would bounce back at the 6:46 mark, as Drouin collected a pass from Braydon Coburn in the Lighting’s zone and turned on the jets. After flying down the right wing, Drouin backhanded a gorgeous pass into the slot to a trailing Boyle. Boyle made no mistake in sniping a shot past Howard to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead. Drouin and Coburn got the helpers, with Drouin getting his first point of the playoffs and Boyle picking up his first goal of the postseason. Tampa Bay continued to buzz, but then the game got chippy and the march to the penalty box began. Pavel Datsyuk took a high stick from Hedman and lost a couple of teeth. Even though Hedman should’ve ended up with a penalty on that play, Datsyuk was called for roughing when he went after Hedman. During the ensuing man-advantage, a big hit by Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser on Ondrej Palat set off a huge scrum. The hit may have been questionable as DeKeyser appeared to have left his feet, but he wasn’t whistled for a penalty. However, matching roughing penalties on Drouin and Riley Sheahan and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Hedman led to a Wings power play. Palat briefly left the game, but returned. The Lightning would kill off the penalty, and then immediately have to kill another one as Hedman went back to the box for hooking with 5:57 left. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill came up big again, and then Boyle and Ericsson collided at center ice. The two began jawing at each other and Ericsson knocked Boyle’s stick out of his hands. While Boyle was called for interference because Ericsson didn’t have possession of the puck, you could’ve made a case for matching minors, but Detroit ended up with another power play chance. Following a few tense moments during this particular man advantage for the Wings, the Lightning were able to get back to even strength without allowing a goal. Boyle came out of the box and found Hedman for a shot from the left circle, but Howard, who finished with 26 saves, made the stop just before the period ended. Shots were 23-21 in favor of Detroit.
In the third period, the Red Wings ended an 0-for-8 drought in the series on the power play when former Bolt Brad Richards wristed a shot that found its way past Bishop through a screen, tying the game 2-2 at the 4:27 mark as Mike Green and Tomas Tatar got the assists. The Wings nearly took the lead a couple minutes later, but Bishop shrugged off a high shot. At the 6:32 mark, Johnson began to weave his playoff magic, as he tallied his first goal of the playoffs to put the Lightning up 3-2. It all started when Killorn took the puck and carried it around behind the net, drawing Howard out of the crease. At the end of the wraparound, Killorn put the puck in front, where Johnson was able to tap it into the net to put the Bolts ahead. Both teams would trade scoring chances as the period went on, as Drouin was stopped by Howard on a rebound of an Andrej Sustr shot, while Bishop denied Green, who skated into the slot and put a high shot on net that was turned aside by Bishop’s shoulder before nearly deflecting off Ryan Callahan at the side of the net. Tampa Bay continued to press, as Drouin stole the puck and got it over to Palat, who in turn found an open Filppula. Filppula was denied on a tremendous sliding defensive play by Henrik Zetterberg. Johnson would pick up his second goal of the night with 5:12 left, as Kucherov took a pass from Jason Garrison, skated around the Detroit net before delivering a pass to Johnson that was one-timed with authority into the back of the net for a 4-2 Lightning lead. Killorn would tack on an empty net goal with 2:44 left to make it 5-2, and then things got really nasty as a huge fight broke out in front of Bishop. Nesterov and Richards dropped the gloves, with Nesterov getting the better of the Red Wings’ veteran, while the Lightning’s Mike Blunden was getting pummeled by Abdelkader while in a defenseless position on the ice, drawing the ire of Blunden, the Lightning, and the rowdy crowd in Amalie Arena. One can’t help but think that will be something to remember as this series goes on, but Cooper chalked it up to the emotions of playoff hockey.
“Just imagine if it was the 70’s. It’s 2016, to me, I thought that was pretty mild,” said Cooper. “Two teams that wanna win a hockey game, and guys were going at it. It was a hard-fought hockey game, emotions got the best of both teams at the end, and that kind of stuff happens.”
The two teams will have Saturday off before meeting up again in Game 3 on Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The opening faceoff is set for 7 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Tyler Johnson – Tied a franchise record for most points in a playoff game, tallying four points (two goals, two assists), a total that included the game-winning goal.
2nd Star: Nikita Kucherov – Had a goal and an assist, and continues to be a monster in this series in the absence of Steven Stamkos.
3rd Star: Jonathan Drouin – Finished with a beautiful assist on Brian Boyle’s goal, while also tallying three shots and three takeaways. Was consistently a thorn in Detroit’s side in all three zones, even drawing a penalty and getting involved in more than one scrum.
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