If there was any doubt Mathieu Joseph was ready to play in the Stanley Cup final after watching last postseason from off the ice, he’s all but quashed them.
With veteran forward Alex Killorn sidelined with an injury, Joseph has been active for the past three games against the Montreal Canadiens. In that time, he’s recorded the first two postseason points of his career, both assists.
Friday, Joseph took a pass from David Savard, skated into the offensive zone on a 2-1 with Johnson and shot from the left circle. Montreal goaltender Carey Price made the save, but the puck deflected off Joseph’s skate into the slot, where Johnson scored on a backhanded shot to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead.
Monday, Joseph passed off the rush over the stick of diving Montreal defenseman Alexander Romanov to Maroon as he drove the net, and Maroon tipped the puck past Price to tie the score at 2.
The opportunity to get back into the lineup at such an important time was important to Joseph.
“It means a lot. I’m not going to lie to you,” Joseph, 24, said after Friday’s game. “I’ve been in this organization for five years now, spent the last 2-1/2 years in the NHL, too, and being part of that last year in the bubble was definitely special, even though I didn’t play.
“I consider these guys my family, and being part of it and on the bench is different than when you’re off the ice, so (I’m) definitely happy to be part of it for the time that I got so far. It’s definitely something that you want to be part of and you’ve worked hard all year for that.”
Joseph didn’t see any ice time last postseason, despite spending 65 days in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles. While disappointing, it gave him a chance to work on his game, conditioning and skills with coaches — all things he has said needed improvement.
This postseason was much the same, with Joseph working on his game before and after morning skates and practices with the other healthy scratches. After playing in two games during the opening round against Florida (when Barclay Goodrow was out with an upper-body injury), he eased comfortably into the lineup.
His teammates have noticed, too.
Maroon skated with Joseph for much of the regular season (with Joseph playing in all 56 regular-season games, recording 12 goals and seven assists) and appreciates the value Joseph brings to the fourth line.
“We were actually a really good line (during the regular season),” Maroon said. “Going over video watching clips, we were very effective. ... I’m glad Joe is back in there, he’s doing good things. That’s good about our team, you can throw a guy in, like Mathieu Joseph that’s been around and has experience, a good player. To have him back on that line is good.”
Who: Lightning vs. Canadiens, Game 5
When: Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Where: Tampa, Florida, at Amalie Arena
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.