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Johnson's hat trick powers Lightning past Avalanche

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- Tyler Johnson's production far exceeds his pedigree.

The 23-year-old rookie scored three goals Saturday night for his first NHL hat trick, leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The game matched the NHL's two leading first-year scorers, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, the first player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, and Johnson, an undrafted free agent. MacKinnon took a 33-31 lead in points into the game and had an assist, but Johnson pulled even for the rookie scoring lead with his three-goal night.

Going head-to-head with MacKinnon didn't provide any extra incentive for Johnson, but he enjoyed the results.

"I don't think there was any extra motivation," Johnson said. "You can't really think about that. You just have to play your game and help your team out as much as possible. Team success is what counts. If you rely on individual success you will fall. You have to rely on that and what got you here.

"I was pretty excited. You have to be pretty lucky to get that. Things just have to go your way and for whatever reason tonight they kind of did. For that to happen, to get my first career hat trick, it's pretty cool."

Johnson opened the scoring 7:15 into the second period when he tapped in the carom of Victor Hedman's shot off goal post for his 14th goal of the season. He made it 4-2 with 5:22 remaining in regulation by batting in the rebound of Martin St. Louis' shot, and completed the hat trick by deflecting Hedman's shot past Semyon Varlamov with 3:05 to play.

St. Louis' assist extended his point streak to 10 games. Victor Hedman finished with three assists for the second straight game.

Tampa Bay won back-to-back home games after dropping five in a row in its own building. The loss snapped Colorado's four-game road winning streak.

The Lightning made it 2-0 just 98 seconds after Johnson's first goal when a shot from the left point by Mark Barberio snuck between Aittokallio's right arm and his body for the defenseman's third goal of the season. Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn assisted.

Filppula stretched the lead to 3-0 at 18:04 when J.T. Brown found him alone to Aittokallio's left. Aittokallio stopped the first shot, but Filppula popped the rebound behind him for his 19th of the season.

But Colorado got back in the game by scoring twice in 30 seconds before the period ended, and coach Patrick Roy decided to have Varlamov play the third period after rookie Sami Aittokallio allowed three goals on 18 shots through 40 minutes.

"We had some momentum and I thought it was the right decision to put Varlamov in," Roy said. "There was only 20 minutes [to play], but it was a tough night for Varlamov and a tough call for Sami. Sometimes as a coach you have to go with your feelings, and we thought it was the right call.

"I was sorry for him. I certainly understand that. At the same time I thought we had some momentum and that it was the call to make at that moment. Easy after, if I had a crystal ball I guess I would have kept him there. "

Aittokallio had no problem with Roy's call to sit him for the final period.

"Those first two goals, I have to make those saves," Aittokallio said. "What can I say; I just have to be better next time."

John Mitchell deflected a shot by Gabriel Landeskog from the left point past Ben Bishop at 18:33. Mitchell's goal was his fifth of the season and his first in his past 28 games.

"I was just trying to stand in front of the net for a screen," Mitchell said. "Landeskog had quite a bit of time and the sea kind of parted for him so he wound up, took a slap shot and I just tried to make sure he would get the shot through"

Some sloppy play in front of the Lightning net then allowed Tyson Barrie to grab the puck alone in the slot and beat Ben Bishop a half-minute later for his sixth goal of the season. Colorado nearly tied it in the final seconds when Matt Duchene came in alone on Bishop, but his shot went over the net.

Colorado pressured the Lightning early in the second period, keeping the puck in the Tampa Bay zone and firing the first six shots of the period on Bishop, who stopped Ryan O'Reilly alone in front of the net and seconds later gloved a shot by Duchene.

"The only gray area, I would say, I would have loved to see us having more shots on net in the third period," Roy said." I think we finished with seven or eight shots (they had six) and I would have loved to see us getting 10 or 15 shots. It doesn't always have to be perfect, the tic-tac-toe. But we had a few good chances. It's over now; Tampa played a good game."

Bishop made 25 saves for his 26th victory of the season.

"I thought our team played very well," Bishop said. "We kind of took two minutes off in the second period, but other than that we played a great game against a very good team."

But the focus was on Johnson and his three-goal game.

"You're sitting there watching two of the best rookies in the League," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It was fairly decent timing on Tyler's part to net three in this game. He was on tonight. You have to go to those dirty areas to score goals and he was doing that tonight."

How does the diminutive Johnson, listed at five-foot-nine-inches get to those tight spots?

"It's easy," Cooper said. "Just go through everybody's legs."

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