TAMPA — If any concern still lingered over the slow season start by Lightning center Tyler Johnson, it disappeared in Friday night's 6-3 win over the Penguins.
The 2015 All-Star followed up a strong performance Wednesday against the Red Wings with his first multipoint game since November, scoring once and adding two assists to help Tampa Bay earn its 10th win in its past 11 games.
"I think he's kind of coming into his own," wing Alex Killorn said.
Johnson's surge was necessary after a sluggish start led to an early deficit for the Lightning (29-18-4) in front of 19,092 at sold-out Amalie Arena.
Pittsburgh recorded 10 of the game's first 11 shots and took advantage of sloppy play in Tampa Bay's defensive zone. Killorn lost a battle for the puck along the boards to Pittsburgh wing Chris Kunitz, who found wing Patric Hornqvist near the net for the game's first goal.
"That first 12, 13 minutes in that first period, that was as good a team as we've seen play against us all year," coach Jon Cooper said.
So the Lightning responded with what might have been the best performance Johnson has had since last year's dynamic season.
He circled the net midway through the first period and found defenseman Anton Stralman in the slot, and Stralman scored to tie the score at 1.
Less than seven minutes later, Johnson tipped a Nikita Kucherov shot that got past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for a 2-1 lead. Johnson was initially credited with a goal, but it was later awarded to Killorn, who also had deflected the puck toward the back of the net. Johnson had to settle for his 13th assist of the season.
Tampa Bay's special teams took over from there, scoring a shorthanded goal and converting on the power play for the fifth game in a row.
On a second-period Penguins power play, center Steven Stamkos poked the puck away from Kunitz to start left wing Ondrej Palat on a breakaway. Palat slid the puck between Fleury's legs for a shorthanded goal and a 3-1 lead. Palat also scored late in the third for his first multigoal game of the season.
After Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby scored his seventh goal in five games to pull Pittsburgh within 3-2, Johnson stole momentum back with his seventh goal of the season. He took a pass from Kucherov seconds into a second-period power play and wristed a shot from the right circle. After failing to score a power-play goal in his first 36 games, Johnson has done so in back-to-back contests.
"Special teams have really stepped up lately," Johnson said.
So has Johnson. His third multipoint game of the season — and first since Nov. 12 — was his most prolific performance of a rough season. He failed to score in his first 12 games, then was held to one goal in an injury-shortened December and January.
Johnson said that adversity was the most he has faced in his career, but the rest forced by injury has helped fuel his resurgence with seven points in his past 11 games.
"I think I keep getting stronger every game," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm getting into the game more often."
First—1, Pit, Hornqvist 11 (Kunitz, Pouliot), 4:53. 2, TB, Stralman 7 (Johnson, Killorn), 11:50. 3, TB, Killorn 9 (Johnson, Kucherov), 18:34. Penalties—Letang, Pit (roughing), 18:56.
Second—4, TB, Palat 5 (Stamkos), 6:04 (sh). 5, Pit, Crosby 21 (Kunitz, Hornqvist), 8:04. 6, TB, Johnson 7 (Kucherov, Hedman), 9:15 (pp). Penalties—Garrison, TB (slashing), 4:26; Cullen, Pit (tripping), 9:07; Condra, TB (hooking), 10:27; Kucherov, TB (hooking), 17:41.
Third—7, Pit, Cullen 6 (Kessel), :55. 8, TB, Palat 6 (Stamkos, Namestnikov), 15:55. 9, TB, Stralman 8 (Callahan), 17:56 (en). Penalties—None. SOG—Pit 12-9-9—30. TB 5-11-13—29. PPs—Pit 0 of 3; TB 1 of 2. Goalies—Pit, Fleury 20-12-5 (14 shots-10 saves), Zatkoff (9:15 second, 14-13). TB, Bishop 21-14-3 (30-27).