TAMPA — After a tumultuous season that included an unfulfilled trade request, a six-week suspension and, eventually, a call back up to the Lightning, wing Jonathan Drouin returned to Amalie Arena on Wednesday with a performance that was almost as wild as the rest of his year.
The former No. 3 overall pick was second among Tampa Bay forwards with 18:09 of ice time in an active night and was the focal point of what would have been the go-ahead goal in a 3-2 win over Detroit in Game 1 of the playoff series.
"You talk about somebody that was into it," coach Jon Cooper said. "He threw some big-time body checks tonight."
Drouin did more than that. The highly touted 21-year-old started on a line that kept Detroit stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg largely in check while adding quality scoring chances.
It was a welcome change for Drouin, a healthy scratch in 20 of last year's 26 playoff games.
"Completely different, definitely," said Drouin, who received a loud ovation before his first home game since December. "I went into last year, I didn't know when I was going to play. Just to know you're starting Game 1 definitely puts confidence in your body."
And that showed on the ice.
He was second on the team with three shots and three more attempts. His best look came six minutes into a physical second period when he had one of his two breakaways, missing a shot wide. Moments later, he was involved in a scrum in front of the Detroit goal and called for roughing, his first of two penalties.
Drouin's most interesting moment came seven minutes into the third period.
He corralled a loose puck near his net and raced to the other end. Drouin fed the puck to center Valtteri Filppula, who hit defenseman Victor Hedman for what appeared to be the go-ahead goal. But Detroit challenged the play, and the newly installed blue line cameras correctly showed Drouin was offside. The goal was disallowed.
"You're moving, and you want to keep your feet moving," Drouin said. "Stuff happens."
Despite the miscue and a pair of two-minute penalties, Drouin was pleased with his performance in his long-awaited opportunity on one of the team's top lines. His 6:20 of ice time in the first period was the most among Tampa Bay forwards, and a wing who hardly played last postseason was on the ice in the closing minutes, as the Lightning preserved a one-goal lead.
"He's earned what he's been getting," Cooper said. "He's just going to get better as he gets more into these games."