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Killorn 'big-game player' for Lightning with Stanley Cup Semifinals next

Forward excelling in all areas heading into series against Islanders

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Alex Killorn hopped over the boards on a quick change and the puck immediately came to him, as if he were a magnet for it.

Without hesitation, the Tampa Bay Lightning forward chipped it past Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei, creating a 2-on-1 on the power play. Killorn made a nifty move to elude another sliding defender before slipping a pass across to forward Brayden Point, who did the rest.

It took six seconds from Killorn's skates touching the ice to the puck hitting the back of the net for the Lightning to score the first goal in an eventual series-clinching 2-0 win in Game 5 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round on Tuesday. It was another example of why Killorn matters so much to Tampa Bay's success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When he's on the ice, good things are happening. And he's on the ice a lot.

" 'Killer' can do it all," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He plays in every situation. He's huge on the PK and obviously a great presence on the power play. This is his time. He's a big-game player."

Tampa Bay, the defending Stanley Cup champion, begins play in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals against the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida; Game 1 is Sunday.

Killorn is second on the Lightning with six goals in the playoffs and tied for third with 12 points in 11 games. He's averaging 18:21 of time on ice per game, including 2:39 on the top power-play unit that has scored all 15 of Tampa Bay's goals with the man-advantage, and 1:59 on the penalty kill.

"The more you can do, the more situations you're going to be put in, the longer your career will be and the more opportunities you're going to get," Killorn said. "I've been fortunate that our team has done really well since I've been in Tampa and I've been put in a lot of situations. The more I've played, the more comfortable I've felt."

The 31-year-old is the least recognizable of the five players on the Lightning's top power-play unit.

Video: CAR@TBL, Gm3: Killorn scores PPG in 2nd period

The others are Hedman, a Norris Trophy winner as the top defenseman in the NHL; forward Nikita Kucherov, a Hart Trophy winner as NHL most valuable player, forward Steven Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner as NHL top goal-scorer, and Point, who leads the Lightning with 22 goals in the playoffs the past two seasons.

But Killorn has arguably the most challenging role as the low man who has to retrieve pucks, be an option to relieve pressure at the side of the net and serve as a netfront presence.

"I think for him personality-wise, he's able to stand on equal footing with 'Kuch,' with 'Stammer,' with 'Heddy,' with 'Pointer,' " said assistant Jeff Halpern, who runs the power play. "I feel like 'Killer' personality-wise fits with that group and has a calming influence on it. He's proven that he has the skill set and the mind to complement a real good group that he's on the ice with."

Killorn is also key on zone entries for the power play. He typically gets the puck from Point and has to protect it long enough for Point to get in the zone and get open for a return pass. 

Killorn did just that to create the chance for Point's power-play goal in Game 5 against the Hurricanes.

"He's got great poise with the puck and that's why he's been such a key component on that power play," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "You see him end up with the puck sometimes on entries and he's hanging onto pucks, fighting guys off. He's one of the best puck protectors on our team, not only on the power play but 5-on-5 you see him fending off defenders and trying to create space for his linemates. I think he just understands where he can be successful in certain situations. Obviously, it's a lot of situations. He thrives in wanting to be an x-factor."

So did former NHL forward Chris Kunitz, who won the Stanley Cup four times, including three with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kunitz also played with Killorn with Tampa Bay in 2017-18.

Killorn said he has heard people compare him to Kunitz because of their roles and impact.

Kunitz played regularly at 5-on-5 with center Sidney Crosby (Killorn plays on a line with Stamkos) and was on Pittsburgh's top power-play unit with Crosby, forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.

"I think that's a fair comparison," Killorn said. "Listen, I played with Chris Kunitz, I take that as an ultimate compliment. I think he's an unbelievable pro."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw value in Killorn's complete-game skill set early in his pro career, when Killorn joined Norfolk, then the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, immediately after he finished his senior season at Harvard as a first-team All-American.

Norfolk, then coached by Cooper, was 18 games into a professional hockey-record 28-game winning streak when Killorn made his debut on March 23, 2012. He scored a goal in his second game. He was in the top-six forward group by his third. He never came out of the lineup.

"He scored a series-clinching overtime goal against Manchester in the first round [of the Calder Cup Playoffs], which was an incredibly tough series," Cooper said. "When you can come in and step into the lineup for a team like that, it probably bodes well for your future going to the next level. And now it's up to the player to prepare himself and not hang his hat on, 'Hey, I made the NHL.' When you get to the NHL, the work is just beginning. 'Killer' has done it.

"He's just one of those unsung guys that is invaluable and he seems to elevate it when the times get the biggest."

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