DETROIT — Jonathan Drouin stood Tuesday night in the visitor's locker room at Joe Louis Arena, thrust into the spotlight of cameras as one of Game 4's biggest stars, reflecting back to when he was all alone.
Drouin admitted there was a time during his six-week suspension in January/February, the low point of his trade request saga, when he didn't think this was possible.
"Sitting at home, you don't really know what's going to happen," he said. "Definitely happy to be back."
And so is the Lightning.
Drouin racked up three assists on three Tampa Bay power-play goals, including a highlight-reel seam pass on the winner with three minutes left, sealing a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings. It stunned a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena and gave the Lightning a commanding 3-1 lead in the first-round series heading into Game 5 Thursday in Tampa.
Tampa Bay had squandered a two-goal second-period cushion, but its power play — ranked 28th in the league this season — became the unlikely saving grace. And Drouin was the unlikely hero, considering he had hoped to get dealt by the Feb. 29 deadline.
It might be the best deal general manager Steve Yzerman never made.
"The one thing that gets missed in all of this is we never, ever gave up on Jonathan," coach Jon Cooper said. "He took a stand and made a decision, we can debate or not whether he was right or wrong, but (it) turned out he came back and made a choice to succeed, and to battle through. There was no gratuitous callup. He earned his way back. He's helping us win hockey games, which we knew all along he could.
"I'm unbelievably proud of the way he's handled himself with our team, with the staff. He deserves this."
The Lightning felt it deserved this game, even after watching a 2-0 lead disappear in the final five minutes of the second, Gustav Nyquist's goal with 8.7 seconds left tying it at 2. And Tampa Bay survived Dylan Larkin's shot off the post with seven minutes left in the game, a shot which never went in despite the fact that the goal lamp lit up.
"I thought it was in," Larkin said.
The Lightning worked on its power play for 30 minutes in Monday's practice. "It felt like about five hours," Tyler Johnson quipped.
It took just nine seconds on the Lightning's first power play to score, a Nikita Kucherov one-timer on a faceoff play it ran countless times Monday. Drouin set up the second one on a sick give-and-go with Kucherov.
Since Drouin was recalled in the final week of the season, he has played like he had something to prove. Buoyed by nine goals in a 10-game stretch at AHL Syracuse, Drouin is playing with confidence and a previously unforeseen edge, even asking Larkin to fight in Game 2. He's not afraid to make mistakes, a minus-2 Tuesday, getting beat on the boards on the tying goal.
"I'm not waiting for something to happen," Drouin said. "It's more make it happen."
Drouin did just that on the winner, directing traffic on the power play, raising his stick to call for a seam pass from Kucherov. Drouin faked a shot, waited, then zipped a pass on the tape of Ondrej Palat's stick in the crease.
"You watch some of the things he does, it's just remarkable," Johnson said. "When he gets his motor running and speed going, it's pretty magical to watch. I'm really glad he's on our team right now."
First—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 4 (Johnson, Drouin), 5:41 (pp). Penalties—Abdelkader, Det (holding), 5:32; Kronwall, Det (hooking), 14:20; Paquette, TB (slashing), 16:28; Johnson, TB (delay of game), 19:14.
Second—2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 5 (Drouin, Garrison), 10:31 (pp). 3, Detroit, Helm 1 (Glendening, Smith), 14:53. 4, Detroit, Nyquist 1 (Sheahan), 19:50. Penalties—Paquette, TB (roughing), 5:10; Andersson, Det (roughing), 5:10; Sheahan, Det (slashing), 9:07; Paquette, TB (tripping), 12:42; Nyquist, Det (goaltender interference), 17:30.
Third—5, Tampa Bay, Palat 1 (Drouin, Kucherov), 17:01 (pp). Penalties—Garrison, TB (hooking), 11:44; Ericsson, Det (cross-checking), 15:18. Shots on goal—Tampa Bay 14-11-8—33. Detroit 10-8-10—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 3 of 5; Detroit 0 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 3-1-0 (28 shots-26 saves). Detroit, Mrazek 1-1-0 (33-30). A—20,027 (20,027).