TAMPA — Tyler Johnson said he has tried all season to find his groove, which has been elusive with all the injuries he has dealt with.
Turns out, all it took was a trip to Cancun over the All-Star break. Saying he felt recharged physically and refocused mentally, the center finally showed the Lightning — and a national television audience — that "Johnny Be Good."
Johnson scored the winner in a 3-1 victory Wednesday over the Red Wings in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. In what goalie Ben Bishop said might have been the biggest game of the season, the Lightning (28-18-4), winners of nine of its past 10, moved ahead of Detroit into sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division. And perhaps just as important, Johnson started to look like the dangerous force the hockey world witnessed in last season's playoff run, an encouraging sign in the Lightning's fight for a postseason spot.
"If he keeps playing like that, we're going to be okay," said Bishop, who was stellar again with 24 saves. "Obviously he can be a very dynamic player. If he gets going, it can be fun to watch."
There were many reasons the Lightning won. It scored the important first goal (J.T. Brown), as it has in eight of its past nine wins. Special teams came up huge with two power-play goals, including Nikita Kucherov's team-high-matching 21st goal of the season.
But Johnson's game might have been the most meaningful. He racked up a team-high five shots, showing the explosive skating and aggressive shooting that has been missing in an injury-plagued season.
"I feel like I'm not necessarily reacting as much as I'm reading," Johnson said. "And when you can read the play, when you can get ahead of it, that's when you can really use your skill, really use your speed. And I was able to do that a little bit more today."
Johnson said his right wrist, broken during last season's Stanley Cup final, wasn't 100 percent to start the season, which he opened with a 12-game goal drought. Then Johnson suffered two injuries that forced him to miss 13 games. He returned after Christmas.
Johnson's goal was his first power-play goal of the season, and his sixth overall, after tallying 29 last season. Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode blared in the arena for the first time since Nov. 25.
"It's great to get to see the puck cross the line to feel that rush, that thrill," Johnson said. "When you do that, you get the confidence. It builds. You feel better about yourself, and it just rolls from there."
Coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday was the best he has seen Johnson play this season. "Outstanding," Cooper said.
Johnson joked that his Mexican vacation worked well for several teammates, including Brown and Ondrej Palat, who had an assist. But Johnson is ready to turn the page on a forgetful first half and turn it on in the second.
"I don't really look at the other half (of the season)," he said. "It doesn't really matter anymore. Can't change it; can't do anything about it. All I can look forward to is the next game and building off every single day. I've always said I want to be better tomorrow than I am today, and it's time for me to start doing that."
First Period—None. Penalties—Pulkkinen, Det (slashing), 16:12.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Brown 5 (Coburn), 1:23. 2, Detroit, Nyquist 14 (Tatar, Quincey), 5:06. 3, Tampa Bay, Johnson 6 (Kucherov, Hedman), 6:30 (pp). Penalties—Datsyuk, Det (tripping), 6:08; Boyle, TB (holding), 11:03; Nyquist, Det (roughing), 18:32; Nesterov, TB (roughing), 18:32.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 21 (Palat), 3:23 (pp). Penalties—Nyquist, Det (holding stick), 2:24; Killorn, TB (tripping), 5:39; Helm, Det (roughing), 6:40; R.Callahan, TB (roughing), 6:40. Shots on Goal—Detroit 10-8-7—25. Tampa Bay 4-15-4—23. PP opportunities—Detroit 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 2 of 3. Goalies—Detroit, Mrazek 18-10-4 (23 shots-20 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 20-14-3 (25-24).