TAMPA — Alex Killorn just had the best regular-season performance of his 10-year NHL career. In the postseason, he’s been one of the Lightning’s most trusted contributors.
But heading into tonight’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, he still is searching for his first goal.
Killorn’s game isn’t all about scoring, even though his career-high 25 goals in the regular season indicates it’s a big part. As the Lightning’s consummate power forward, Killorn is at his best possessing the puck and getting it into the offensive zone for a sustained amount of time. From that, the goals will come.
Killorn actually could have been the hero of Game 4 of the second-round series against Florida when he tipped in Mikhail Sergachev’s puck on net for presumably the first goal. But following a 10-minute challenge review, it was ruled the puck hit the netting, making it a dead puck, and Killorn’s goal was taken off the board.
“I think he’s played fabulous,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “...But you can’t judge all these players on how many pucks they put in the net. It’s hard enough because they judge themselves. But we don’t judge them that way.”
“Are they putting themselves in a position to help our team win?” Cooper added. “And yes, it’s great to look on the score sheet and see your name. But as our guys have been well aware of the last few years, it’s way better to see the Lightning with a number that’s more than the opponent. And I think that’s a big reason why we’ve had success. And yes, do you want everybody to be able to score and put the numbers up? Of course they do. But at this time of year we don’t judge our players on that and I think Killer’s been awesome.”
It didn’t make the scoresheet, but Killorn made one of the biggest plays of the Lightning’s Game 3 win.
After Nikita Kucherov was called for a four-minute high-sticking double minor midway through the third period of a tied game, Killorn stole the puck from Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba in the neutral zone, creating a shorthanded chance going the other way. Killorn drew a tripping call on Trouba, who had to stop Killorn from getting a breakaway chance on net, and the penalty trimmed the Rangers power play by two minutes.
Killorn might not have scored but he’s been near big plays. It’s easy to forget that it was Killorn who first put the puck on net to set up Brayden Point’s Game 6 overtime goal against Toronto that changed the Lightning’s fortunes in the first round.
Killorn’s current line with center Anthony Cirelli and Brandon Hagel had their best game together Sunday. They were matched up defensively with the Rangers’ top line centered by Mika Zibanejad. Offensively, Killorn’s line put up 15 shots on goal in 5-on-5 play, with Killorn notching five on goal. They didn’t score despite nine high-danger scoring chances, but set the tone offensively and had the Rangers top line chasing the puck.
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“I think defensively, the less time you spend in the defensive end, you always have more energy to play offense,” Killorn said. “Playing in your D zone is very frustrating and very tiring. So when you could do it to another team and do it for an extended period of time where they feel like once they get the puck, they just have to chip in and get off the ice, and you continuously do that, it’s hard on their team.
“The more we could spend in the zone — I think we had a ton of chances — hopefully, we’ll get one in one of these games coming up here.”
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