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Johnson gets his groove back at key time for Lightning

TAMPA — First, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan went down with injuries.

Then second-leading scorer Nikita Kucherov.

There's no guarantee the trio will be available tonight against the Maple Leafs at Amalie Arena.

Good thing Johnny Be Good.

Center Tyler Johnson is playing some of his best hockey of the season, he and linemate Ondrej Palat finding their games as the playoffs approach. Though they missed a good chunk of the first half of the season with assorted injuries, they've combined for 11 points in the past four games. Johnson has goals in back-to-back games for just the second time this year.

"We're going to need him," coach Jon Cooper said. "A big reason we've been scoring is you look at Johnson and Palat starting to come alive."

The duo — once part of the Triplets line with Kucherov — has clicked with shoot-first wing Jonathan Marchessault, who has the speed and skill to play on their right after Kucherov moved up to play with Steven Stamkos. Johnson, with 14 goals, won't be able to match the 29 he scored in last year's All-Star season. The 14 are just one more than he tallied in 26 playoff games on the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup final last season.

But Johnson finally feels right. And he looks right, too, flying up the ice and attacking the net. He had seven shots Saturday against the Panthers.

"I feel I've got the speed back, got everything that I can do," Johnson said. "And I'm actually mentally in it with not having to deal and worry about other things."

A broken wrist suffered in the Cup final hampered his summer workouts and affected him at the beginning of the season. Then came a few injuries that forced him to miss 13 games from mid November through late December. Palat, who missed 20 games around the same time, is riding a season-high four-game points streak, with two goals and five assists. His 14 goals are just two off last season's mark.

"We were just getting back in a rhythm," Johnson said. "You look at 'Pally' and I, we were battling injuries on and off, and it takes a while to get back into it. I think you can see that coming."

Cooper has said it often: Johnson — and Palat, for that matter — has played a lot of hockey the past several seasons, dating to their Calder Cup playoff runs in the AHL. Missing time due to injuries this season might have been a blessing in disguise for Johnson. Cooper said the Lightning is seeing the benefits of that rest now.

"In pro, we've gone to the finals pretty much every year," Johnson said. "If we didn't, I was playing in World Championships. Even in juniors, we went (to the playoffs) every year. I've always kind of been in a rhythm always playing hockey. So I've never really had a break. I guess with the injuries, this is the most I've actually taken off away from the gym or the ice.

"I don't necessarily think that's a blessing because I want to be here. But my body feels really good right now, and I'm just trying to help the team. Just got to keep on rolling,"

As Chuck Berry says in Johnson's goal song, "Go Johnny Go."

Tonight

vs. Maple Leafs, 7:30, Amalie Arena TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

.TONIGHT

Lightning vs. Maple Leafs

When/where: 7:30; Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

Key stats: The rebuilding Maple Leafs are making a run at the end of the season, having won five of their past seven, including a 4-1 victory over the Lightning in Toronto on March 15. … Tampa Bay had won the teams' previous three meetings, all by one goal. … G Andrei Vasilevskiy started the first four games against Toronto, but Ben Bishop was expected to start tonight. … RW Nikita Kucherov (lower body), RW Ryan Callahan (lower body) and C Valtteri Filppula (upper body) are day to day. … The Lightning has given up four goals in four of its past six games. … C Steven Stamkos, a Toronto-area native, has seven goals in his past seven games.

Johnson gets his groove back at key time for Lightning 03/27/16 [Last modified: Sunday, March 27, 2016 11:36pm]
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