TAMPA — Tyler Johnson’s playing time diminished and his scoring numbers reached career lows this season. But as a playoff-tested veteran, the Lightning forward is showing that important contributions can go well beyond numbers on a scoresheet.
In the postseason, scoring first is important, as is setting tempo. And in the Lightning’s series-clinching win over the Florida Panthers Wednesday night, Johnson contributed to both.
About six minutes into a scoreless game, Johnson used his speed to beat an icing call, outracing Florida defensemen MacKenzie Weegar and Anton Stralman to the puck behind the Panthers’ net. Quickly switching to offensive mode, he centered a pass to Pat Maroon in front of the goal that Maroon flicked past Florida goalie Spencer Knight for the game’s first score.
The play gave the Lightning the lead, and momentum, in Game 6. They really never looked back after that, putting the Panthers and the series away with a 4-0 win.
“I just wanted to try to do whatever I can to help our team win,” Johnson said. “That’s just trying to play the best you can when you’re called upon. It’s just trying to do all the little things right. The playoffs is a different atmosphere, it’s a different game where the stakes are a lot higher. And you’re not too focused on the individual stuff. It’s just trying to do whatever you can for the team.”
This has been an interesting year for Johnson. Even before the season began, not long after he lifted the Stanley Cup, there was talk that the Lightning were trying to move him to clear cap space. They didn’t have to, instead putting Nikita Kucherov on long-term injured reserve and trading for other dead injury contracts to become cap-compliant.
Johnson had seven goals and 15 points in the Lightning’s first 30 games but went through a 21-game goal drought that lasted until May 5. He had his share of scoring opportunities but was seemingly snake-bitten before his streak ended when a pass went off an opponent’s skate and into the slot, where he scored.
Currently centering the Lightning’s fourth line, Johnson is averaging just 8:52 of ice time in the postseason. But that lack of playing time doesn’t mean he hasn’t made an impact. He showed that in Game 6, not only with his assist, but also beating out another icing call after the Panthers had pulled Knight for an extra attacker late in the game.
“You need everybody contributing,” Cooper said. “And maybe those guys didn’t play as much as some of the other lines (Thursday). It was just a matching scenario with the way things were going. But Johnny had two big-time impacts on the game.
“Those are fundamental. Guys are going nuts on the bench for him. Johnny had a whale of a game (Wednesday), and he deserved that set up on that first one because it was magnificent work. It’s hard when you’re not playing as much to come out and do that, and he performed well for us.”
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