Lightning top Ottawa Senators for sixth straight win

Tyler Johnson scores with 90 seconds left to break a tie in the 5-3 victory.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) celebrates his winning goal with left wing Ondrej Palat (18) as Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson (41) watches during third-period NHL hockey game action in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) celebrates his winning goal with left wing Ondrej Palat (18) as Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson (41) watches during third-period NHL hockey game action in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [ JUSTIN TANG | AP ]
Published Jan. 5, 2020|Updated Jan. 5, 2020

OTTAWA — Tyler Johnson almost had an assist and instead ended up with the winning goal against the Senators on Saturday.

In the final two minutes, he followed a rebound, picked up the puck at the goal line and swung around to set up Anthony Cirelli in the high slot. As Victor Hedman collected a second rebound, Johnson sunk low near the crease. Hedman slid a centering pass across to Johnson, and Johnson redirected the puck into the net to break a 3-3 tie with 1:30 left.

A game that had seemed headed to overtime instead ended as a 5-3 Lightning win — their sixth straight victory — after Alex Killorn landed an empty-netter.

Related: How Mikhail Sergachev became the Lightning's most improved player

“We always talk about (how) shots create opportunities and chances, and that’s what happened,” Johnson said, discussing how Ondrej Palat cleared out the low slot to make space for Johnson and Hedman’s play. Hedman made a pass to Palat to set up the original chance similar to the one he did on the play that became Johnson’s goal.

With Johnson’s goal, the Lightning (23-13-4) capped a second comeback in the game. After a scoreless first period, the second saw five combined goals and two lead changes, with Ottawa leading 3-2 heading into the intermission. The Lightning scored three times in the third period to earn the win.

Ottawa thought it had tied the score at 4 in the game’s final moments when Colin White put the puck in the net, but the official ruled he head-butted it in and goals can’t be scored on head-butts.

Johnson hasn’t had much consistency this season. He has played many different roles and dealt with an injury. He hasn’t been recording points at the same rate as in recent seasons, and he went 11 games without a goal in November.

The Lightning talk a lot about having players who can play anywhere in the lineup. Johnson has been on every line, at center and on each wing. “It’s definitely different,” he said. “But my job is just to do whatever I’m told. Whenever I’m called upon, no matter who it is or where I’m playing, I just try to do my best.”

With two goals in the past three games (after five without), Johnson may be settling into more of a rhythm.

He is currently playing on the third line with Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette, who had been two-thirds of the physical fourth line for much of the season. A week ago, Johnson was playing with rookies Carter Verhaeghe and Mitchell Stephens on the fourth line.

Related: Andrei Vasilevskiy propels the Lighting to a win over Montreal

Each line has different responsibilities, so though Johnson isn’t changing his game entirely from line to line, he makes small recalibrations. Saturday’s winning goal came on a new line of Palat (started on the first line), Cirelli (started on the second) and Johnson as the Lightning tried to respond to the pressing Senators.

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Coach Jon Cooper said it’s about finding what fits for everyone. He’s looking for synergy, chemistry and little things that win games.

“(Johnson is) a good little player,” Cooper said. “He’s a team player, just one of those kids who says, ‘Put me in, tell me where to go and I’ll work for you.’ It was great to see him get that, though. He’s scored some big goals over his career for us, and that was just another one.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.

Lightning 0-2-3—5

Senators 0-3-0—3

First Period—None. Penalties—Brown, Ott (Tripping), 4:41; Cernak, Tam (Interference), 11:00; Englund, Ott (Fighting), 14:10; Maroon, Tam (Fighting), 14:10; McDonagh, Tam (Tripping), 15:34; Goloubef, Ott (Slashing), 19:48.

Second Period—1, Ottawa, Tierney 6 (Jaros), 0:46 (sh). 2, Tampa Bay, Verhaeghe 2 (Hedman, Gourde), 2:40. 3, Tampa Bay, Shattenkirk 7, 3:45. 4, Ottawa, Pageau 19 (Ennis, Batherson), 11:40 (pp). 5, Ottawa, Borowiecki 5 (Chabot, Anisimov), 19:51. Penalties—Kucherov, Tam (Tripping), 10:55; Cirelli, Tam (Roughing), 16:46; Tkachuk, Ott (Roughing), 16:46.

Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Point 16 (Kucherov, Sergachev), 8:37. 7, Tampa Bay, Johnson 9 (Hedman, Palat), 18:30. 8, Tampa Bay, Killorn 16, 19:53 (en). Penalties—Shattenkirk, Tam (High Sticking), 5:48; Cirelli, Tam (Roughing), 12:01; Tkachuk, Ott (Roughing), 12:01.

Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-7-14_28. Ottawa 7-14-7_28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Ottawa 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, McElhinney 5-4-2 (28 shots-25 saves). Ottawa, Anderson 6-10-1 (27-23). A—13,914 (18,572). T—2:27. Referees—Jake Brenk, Francois St Laurent. Linesmen—Kory Nagy, Travis Toomey.