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Lightning forward Johnson knows how to win

by Corey Long /

BRANDON, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said he got a few more text messages after his game Thursday, and the plane ride back to Tampa was a little nicer.

Otherwise there wasn't much that changed for the second-year player who scored two goals, including the game-winner 2:25 into overtime, to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round and save the Lightning from being on the brink of elimination.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday (6 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN, FS-D, FS-F).

"I don't think I did anything out of the ordinary," Johnson said Friday. "We knew that we had to continue to work and if we could get one past [Red Wings goalie Petr] Mrazek we would have a chance."

Johnson scored Tampa Bay's first goal with 5:26 remaining in the third period, and Ondrej Palat tied the game 1:17 later. Johnson's game-winner was set up by a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman.

"It was a great play by Victor and I'm glad I was able to make it count," Johnson said. "It's definitely one of those things you think about, scoring a game-winning goal in overtime, and to have the opportunity to do it to help the team feels great."

Johnson has four goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos yet to score, it's been up to the line of Johnson, Palat and Nikita Kucherov to provide the best opportunities.

It starts with Johnson, who continues to play with the same chip on his shoulder he's had since entering professional hockey. At 5-foot-9, he was dismissed by many as being too small, but he's proven he can be the biggest man on the ice when he's needed.

"It was a great performance by Tyler, and you always know that he's capable of making things happen at any time," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "He's a clutch player, and when the team appears to be a little down and out, he's the guy that can lift everyone back up."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Johnson is a natural winner and he's proven it at every level of hockey.

"You look at what he's done in the [Western Hockey League] and winning a title there, and winning the Calder Cup in the [American Hockey League], and winning a gold medal at the World Juniors," Cooper said. "And don't get me wrong, I understand that these aren't one-man shows, but I don't think it's a coincidence that he's been on all of these teams that have had success and we've been a more successful team with Tyler Johnson here."

Johnson is no longer a well-kept secret; he made the All-Rookie team in 2014 and was an All-Star this season. Opponents plan for him, and the Red Wings have tried to get in his head with physical play. But the scrum that started Thursday after Detroit forward Luke Glendening sent Johnson into the boards only made Johnson play harder down the stretch. Glendening injured his hand and left the game.

"I wasn't happy about that play, I thought it was a little cheap," Johnson said. "But we rallied around that incident and we stood up for each other. It probably got us a little fired up and we were able to keep that energy level up for the rest of the game. We have a lot of character on this team."

One game-winning goal isn't going to make Johnson's season. He knows the playoffs will continue to demand a higher level of hockey if the Lightning want to advance.

"The games have been tight so far, and we're down to a best-of-3 now, so it's going to get even tighter," Johnson said. "The net hasn't been very wide with their guy back there, and it's harder to score and harder to break through their defense. But that's what I expected from this series. In a lot of ways it's like looking in the mirror because they do a lot of the same stuff we do."

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