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Lightning's Drouin told to just keep playing

Tampa Bay coaches haven't lost faith in forward following Game 3 mistake

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Drouin was one of the Tampa Bay Lightning's best players. He seemed to make something good happen every shift and scored goals in both games in Pittsburgh to help the Lightning earn a split.

The Lightning's 4-2 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday provided a reminder, however, that as well as Drouin has played during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he's still 21 years old and learning. That reminder came in the form of an untimely mistake that led to the Penguins' first goal.

Despite being outplayed, the Lightning were less than 20 seconds from reaching the second intermission tied 0-0. But in his eagerness to make something happen, Drouin made a poor decision.

After carrying the puck over the Penguins blue line, Drouin curled in the left circle and tried to pass back to teammate Victor Hedman. The Penguins' Phil Kessel picked off the pass and raced off toward the Lightning end on a 2-on-1 rush.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped Kessel's shot, but Carl Hagelin put in the rebound to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the second period. 

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Hagelin nets rebound to give Pens lead

"I was just trying to make a hockey play," Drouin said Thursday. "I saw [Hedman] coming down on the second wave and Kessel made a nice play on it. That was on me, I know that, and we already talked about it so it's behind us and definitely something you want to improve."

The lesson for Drouin was to be safer. With so little time left in the period, if he had gotten the puck in deep, the Lightning would have started the third tied at worst. 

"The simple play would have been to just cycle it down and end the period 0-0," Drouin said. "I definitely wish it didn't happen and we went into the third 0-0, but that's stuff that happens and you want to be sure you're not changing the way you play."

Although Drouin was demoted to the fourth line in the third period, the message he received from the coaching staff heading into Game 4 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) was to just keep playing, because stuff happens.

"I think for any player's psyche, Jonathan included, you've just got to stick with them," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "These are our go-to guys. These are the guys that are going to play. Jonathan is going to get right back up and go back out there, and so is everybody else that's made mistakes. They've done it as a collective group. We've come this far together as a group and we know we can keep going as a group."

There was a time earlier this season when Drouin struggled to earn Cooper's trust, but he has changed that with the way he has played during the playoffs and is tied for third on the Lightning with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 13 games. Drouin has gone from requesting a trade because he was unhappy with his role to being one of the players Cooper now relies on, with captain Steven Stamkos sidelined following surgery to remove a blood clot.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm2: Drouin ties the game with perfect shot

Drouin ended his self-imposed exile from the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate March 7 and got a second chance on his NHL season after Stamkos' April 4 surgery. Cooper said he appreciates how far Drouin has come and hasn't lost faith in him because of his mistake in Game 3.

"The player makes a mistake, and just because it eventually ended up in the back of the net it's a bad mistake," Cooper said. "When there's other guys that are making mistakes tenfold and they don't end up in the back of the net, they're not as magnified. The one thing with Jonathan is that, sure, that was one mistake that was made 170 feet from the net. But there were other mistakes made by other players on the way back. And that's been the key with a lot of the goals that have been scored against us. It's not just one guy, but a lot of guys are making mistakes."

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