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Lightning's Johnson scrutinized over lack of faceoffs

by Corey Long / NHL.com

BRANDON, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson isn't sure if he'll be taking faceoffs in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Johnson took one faceoff in Game 2, a 4-3 Lightning win, and hasn't taken a draw since. He took 15 faceoffs in Game 1 and won six of them, but Tampa Bay won 53 percent of the faceoffs in that game. In the three games that followed the Lightning have won 35, 42, and 34 percent of the faceoffs.

Chicago earned a 2-1 win in Game 4 and tied the best-of-7 series at two wins apiece.

There has been plenty of speculation about Johnson's health. His absence from the faceoff circle and dwindling shot total in the Cup Final would suggest he's struggling with injuries.

"I think everyone's banged up," Johnson said. "When you play this long … you're doing that, you're going to be bumped up a little bit, but it doesn't matter right now. It's the Stanley Cup. There's a maximum three games left and then you've got all summer to rest. You work this hard to get here, you want to win it."

As for the issue with faceoffs, Johnson was coy with his response.

"[Linemate Ondrej Palat] beat me in practice, and he's just better than me," Johnson said. "I've never been that good at faceoffs, so it's all right."

Johnson took an average of 17 faceoffs a game in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers and has been the faceoff guy for the "Triplets" line of Johnson, Palat and Nikita Kucherov for much of the season.

Palat has taken over that role in the past three games and has won 13 of 36 faceoffs (36.1 percent).

Johnson said the strategy doesn't change with Palat taking faceoffs.

"The thing is with faceoffs, it's not really the center trying to win faceoffs, it's really the five-man unit," Johnson said. "Very rarely is a faceoff won clean, there's a lot more to it. With [Palat] in there, he's a strong kid, he ties up, so it's really on [Kucherov] and me to get in there."

As for Johnson's other involvement in the offense, he's had six shots on goal during the Cup Final. He had three shots in Game 2 and scored a goal, his 13th of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think we have to move as a unit a lot better and start being more aggressive at the net," Johnson said. "Some plays that we normally make all the time aren't working for us right now. So we just need to settle down and play our game."

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