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Lightning's Drouin ready to go in Game 4

Forward OK after taking 'good hit' against Islanders

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- If there was any doubt whether Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin felt any lingering effects from a hit he absorbed from New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Tuesday, it was erased by a dazzling display of skating two days later at practice.

During a power-play drill at Barnabas Health Hockey House inside Prudential Center on Thursday, Drouin darted back and forth and zipped around defenders with ease. 

No fuss, no issues, and no hard feelings toward Hickey and the hit that caught him in the nose.

"I think I walked into that one more than he did anything dirty," Drouin said. "Shoulder-to-shoulder. My head was down a little bit but it's part of hockey and it was a good hit."

Drouin skated in his usual spot on a line left wing Alex Killorn and center Valtteri Filppula in preparation for Game 4 at Barclays Center in New York on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 and Drouin is a big reason why. Forced from Game 3 5:51 into the second period following Hickey's hit, Drouin returned in the third after passing doctors' tests and set up forward Nikita Kucherov's tying goal with 38.4 seconds left.

"The forwards were a little low and [Kucherov] came over the top, really came out of nowhere," Drouin said. "He made that spot for himself and got a hold of it."

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

Forward Brian Boyle's goal 2:48 into overtime gave the Lightning a 5-4 win, but much of the talk among the Lightning has been about Drouin's warrior mentality. 

"I was surprised he came back but it just shows you the kind of resolve he has," Killorn said. "He didn't miss much time. You think about how long it takes to go in the room and do all those tests and stuff. He came right back. It wasn't like he came back and he was sitting back and waiting to see what happens. He stepped in and made a huge play."

Drouin, 21, has shown plenty to his teammates and the Lightning organization in what's been a time of redemption for the third pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. The saga of Drouin's trade request, indefinite suspension and eventual reconciliation led to his call-up for the final two games of the regular season after he scored nine goals in 10 games for Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

Injuries and forward Steven Stamkos' surgery to remove a blood clot on April 4 allowed Drouin to receive top-six minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's delivered with eight points in eight games, including a goal and three assists against the Islanders, after he had no points and was a minus-six in six playoff games last season.

"I think that little stint he had in the AHL really did help him," Killorn said. "He was producing down there and he's been doing it at the same rate in the NHL. When you lose a guy like Stamkos it's definitely a scoring void there. For him to come in and help out so much it's been huge for us.

"He always jokes around that he's got his legs because he's gotten enough rest this year. You can see the skill he has. When he comes and plays like he does with that tenacity, it's tough to stop guys like that, guys that are so dynamic with the puck."

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm2: Drouin slips one five-hole by Greiss

Lightning coach Jon Cooper didn't know what to expect from Drouin upon his return. He knew about his success in the AHL, but couldn't imagine him being this good this quickly. 

"Am I going to sit here and say I could have foreseen [he would have eight points in the playoffs]? I don't know if I could sit here and foresee that was going to be the case," Cooper said. "Our hope was he could add something to our power play and he's most definitely done that. It has been his physicality, his [competitiveness], all those other things that he's just taken to another level. That's been awesome to see."

Thanks in part to Drouin, the Lightning are two wins from reaching the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season and may be beginning to peak. Meanwhile, Drouin's confidence is growing. 

"Every day is better and better," Drouin said. "I feel more confident about myself. I just have to make sure that keep going and I'll be fine.

"It's just instincts now. Sometimes it's thinking too much but lately since I came back, the way I was playing in Syracuse it's just part of the game. Not thinking about what's going on or who's on the ice, it's just me playing hockey."

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