Tampa Bay averted disaster on Thursday by rallying for a 3-2 victory over Edmonton, the worst team points-wise in the NHL. The Lightning had dropped two in a row entering the game and were trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.
For two periods, the Lightning were sleepwalking, putting just 10 shots on net against one of the softest defensive teams in the league.
In the third, the Bolts woke, Ondrej Palat tallying his 10th and 11th goals of the season to spark the come-from-behind victory.
Tampa Bay plays two more games before the All-Star break. The Lightning will try to pick up two more wins and collect all six points during the present homestand to stay on top of the Eastern Conference points race.
1. TYLER JOHNSON KNOWS HOW TO MAKE A GRAND ENTRANCE
Few expected Lightning center Tyler Johnson to be available to play just three days after suffering a lower-body injury in Philadelphia that sidelined him for one game.
Even when Johnson joined the rest of his Bolts teammates for Thursday’s morning skate, he wore a red no-contact jersey. He didn’t participate in the line rushes, wasn’t involved in any of the drills and generally stood at center ice watching while the rest of the Bolts practiced.
When asked following the training session when he might return, Johnson responded: “That’s up to the medical staff and the coaching staff.”
Cooper, too, was coy, saying there was a good chance Johnson would make an appearance before the All-Star break without offering any hints the Spokane, Wash., native was good to go later that night.
And then pregame warm-ups started, Johnson stepped onto the ice with the rest of the Lightning and suddenly it was like he never left.
Johnson set up Tampa Bay’s game-tying goal by taking the puck behind the net and feeding Nikita Kucherov alone in the slot. Kucherov was robbed by Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens, but Ondrej Palat was lurking to send in the rebound.
On the winning score, Johnson backhanded a pass from the boards to a wide-open Palat in the slot, and Palat buried the wrist shot.
Following the game, Johnson said he hadn’t planned on playing against Edmonton, but after feeling up for it after morning skate, decided to give it a go.
“I’ve been with him a long time. Kid’s a gamer,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We would never put a player at risk. We weren’t sure how he was going to feel. But after the skate, we had a good feeling, well we knew he could play after the skate.”
2. WATCH OUT NHL: STEVEN STAMKOS IS HEATING UP
Steven Stamkos’ time as an honorary Triplet lasted just one game with Tyler Johnson’s return last night. The Lightning captain scored twice as the pivot to Palat and Kucherov in Boston.
Back on the top line with his rotating cast of linemates against Edmonton, Stamkos continued his recent scoring assault, netting his 26th goal of the season midway through the second period to knot the score 1-1.
Stamkos has five goals over the last week and is on a run of four consecutive games with a goal. Prior to the Edmonton game, Cooper was asked whether Stamkos was starting to hit his stride.
“I sound like a broken record, but you just don’t keep goal scorers down,” Cooper responded. “The one thing, the misconception is that the Stamkos’ and the Ovechkin’s and they just go on and on about the goal scorers, that they score every single game. They don’t. 50 goals is an unbelievable year, especially in this day and age…Fifty goals used to be 15 guys would have them. Now you’re lucky if one or two get 50. Stammer’s on pace for getting darn near close to 50, which in today’s age is really good…You get a little worried when he’s getting zero chances. So, if he went through stretches where, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t see him for three games, and he didn’t even have a shot on goal.’ That might be a concern. He’s post, Grade-A, Grade-A, miss net type deals, he was getting them, they just weren’t going in. Now they’re going in.”
Stamkos moved into a tie with Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash for the NHL lead in goals.
Not too shabby for a guy who’s taken a bit of a backseat this season to the headline-grabbing Triplets line.
3. SHOOT THE PUCK
Following the victory, Cooper was not happy with the way the Lightning played in the first two periods. Tampa Bay had an opportunity to start aggressively and get out in front of team that hasn’t played well all season and would surely suffer from a lack of confidence if it fell behind to the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, the Lightning were too patient. They waited for the perfect scoring chance to present itself. More often than not, good opportunities were passed up in hopes of better ones, but, instead, the puck was turned over.
“Liked the ending, I’ll leave it at that,” Cooper answered matter-of-factly when asked his thoughts postgame.
The Lightning registered just five shots in each of the first two periods. They finished with 19 total shots, the same amount they had two days earlier in a loss to the Bruins.
Nineteen ties a season low for least amount of shots in a game this season for the Bolts.
“The (second Edmonton) goal was a microcosm of our two periods: have a Grade-A chance or a good chance to shoot, pass it up, take a penalty, have a puck on our stick, turn it over and it ends up in our net,” Cooper said.
The Lightning need to get back in the habit of putting more pucks on net because, as Cooper says, good things happen.