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Drouin shows Lightning 'he's a warrior'

Returns from big hit, assists on tying goal in Game 3 win against Islanders

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Less than one month ago, Jonathan Drouin didn't know if he ever would play for the Tampa Bay Lightning again. But you can bet they're happy to have him now.

Drouin set up Nikita Kucherov's game-tying goal with 38.4 seconds left in the third period before Brian Boyle scored 2:48 into overtime for a 5-4 win against the New York Islanders in Game 3 at Barclays Center on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay has a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Second Round best-of-7 series with Game 4 here Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Drouin left the game 5:51 into the second period after taking a hit from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey. Hickey's shoulder appeared to hit Drouin in the face. After undergoing tests from doctors, Drouin was cleared and returned in the third period.

"I felt fine, so I was just making sure the tests were good, passing them. I felt normal, went back to the bench and went from there," the left wing said. "It's huge. I feel confident more as every game goes on. Even today I felt better, so I'm definitely happy the way it's going."

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Hickey delivers hit to Drouin

The 21-year-old, who was the third pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, has had a tumultuous season. He was suspended by the Lightning on Jan. 20 after failing to report to an American Hockey League game with Syracuse. He requested a trade in November but remained with the Lightning, and the suspension was eventually lifted in early March.

Drouin played 10 games for Syracuse after he was reinstated and scored nine goals. He was recalled by the Lightning on April 8, when he scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils. Drouin also scored in the regular-season finale against the Montreal Canadiens.

He has one goal and three assists in this series, and eight points in eight 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"He's a warrior," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "You could see how much better the 6-on-5 was with him out there. He really controls that power play or when there's an extra man. He's a big reason why we are where we are right now and to see him come back and get an assist there (on the tying goal), it's huge."

Part of the reason Drouin was recalled was because of the injury to forward Steven Stamkos, who missed the final five games of the regular season and all of the playoffs so far after being diagnosed with a blood clot.

"You've got to give a lot of credit to Jonathan and how he's handled everything since he's come back," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He made some decisions and I respect him ... he stuck up for what he believed in at the time. But he came back to be a hockey player and it's been a pleasure coaching. He's kind of injected some life into our team. He's been great to be around, but just what happened tonight just spells how his character and what he's about, and I'm really proud of him -- and the story is not over."

Drouin said he was eager to return to the game after he was cleared and made his presence felt in the final minute.

"I just went down the wall," he said. "We had an extra player (because the goalie was pulled) so they were pretty much collapsing to the net and their guy went to the net a little more and Kucherov came up from the high slot. I saw him and he made a great [shot]."

Cooper said he wasn't surprised with the way Drouin responded once he returned.

"He went through every test possible," Cooper said. "Even after all the tests, we [said], 'Do them again' just to make sure. He passed everything. He came back and I asked him how he was feeling. He said, 'I wouldn't come out here if I didn't feel like I could play'. I think he just needed a little bit of time to get back into the game. We kind of eased him back into the game. It's pretty cool that he was the guy that set up the game-tier."

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Kucherov beats Greiss to tie the game

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman praised Drouin for his ability to wait for the play to develop, rather than rushing something that wasn't there.

"To come back from that [hit] and set up the tying goal being patient with the puck and finding Kucherov in the slot, there's not a whole lot of guys who can do that, and for him to miss a little bit of time in the game and come back to do that is pretty impressive," Hedman said.

Drouin had no points and was minus-6 in six playoff games last season, and was a healthy scratch 20 times as the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final.

"I think we're just in the first couple of chapters," Cooper said. "This guy I think is going to write one heck of a hockey story for himself."

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