DETROIT – Tyler Johnson has struggled to shake his shadow against the Red Wings.
The Tampa Bay center finally managed to do it late Thursday night, only because the shadow went to the Red Wings’ dressing room and did not return.
Luke Glendening has gone everywhere that the Lightning sniper has gone in this Eastern Conference first-round series. Whenever Johnson’s on the ice, Glendening has been sure to follow.
It was no different in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena, until late in the third period. That’s when Johnson – like a schoolboy trying to get away with some shenanigans when the teacher isn’t looking – exploited a favorable matchup without Glendening on the ice.
With 7 ½ minutes left in regulation and the Wings seemingly in control of a 2-0 lead, Glendening left with a cut to his right hand following a melee that included Johnson in front of the penalty boxes. As a result, Glendening and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman were each assessed roughing minors. However, instead of going to the box, Glendening headed to the Wings’ dressing room for repairs.
“I honestly don’t know what I caught, a skate or a visor or something,” said dejected Glendening, who finished with two shots and two hits while logging 15:01 of ice time.
Perhaps a coincidence, but without Glendening to mark him, Johnson scored two goals, including the game-winner at 2:25 of overtime, to defeat the Wings, 3-2, and send the series back to Amalie Arena at two wins apiece.
“That’s just the way the game goes,” Glendening said. “Obviously I was frustrated not being able to be out there. He’s a dynamite player and when he gets time and space he can do special things.”
Johnson first goal – the Lightning’s first at The Joe since he scored in the second period against goalie Jimmy Howard on Nov. 9 – fueled Tampa Bay’s high-octane offense. Since then the Wings posted two straight shutout wins at home against the Lightning. The last was Tuesday in Petr Mrazek’s 22-save performance in a 3-0 Game 3 victory.
The shutouts were the only times the Lightning, the league’s highest-scoring offense, was blanked all season. They had gone more than nine periods without scoring a goal at Joe Louis Arena.
But in a 77-second span, Johnson and Ondrej Palat snapped the scoring drought, potting even-strength goals to send the game to overtime, where Johnson ended it at 2:25 with his fourth goal of the series.
Game 5 is at Amalie Arena on Saturday at 6 p.m. EDT.
Though Glendening said he’s fine and expects to play Saturday, his loss was a big factor in Johnson finding time in space to score his two game-changing goals.
“Obviously it was a big play in the game,” said coach Mike Babcock about Glendening’s injury. “I really thought we should be going on the power play there, but can’t control those things. Obviously, getting his hand cut and missing the rest of the game matchup-wise, Johnson’s line got the next three goals. But still, we made some mistakes. I thought we played a good game and did lots of good things and in the end we made some mistakes. They capitalized on each one of them. They hadn’t got much done. I thought they stole tonight’s game, kind of like w stole Game 1 in their building.”
Asked about what has made Glendening so effective against Johnson and the Lightning’s second line, the Wings’ coach didn’t have an immediate answer.
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask Johnson,” Babcock said. “He’s a good player, he plays hard, he can skate. We think he’s OK. Just like all injuries in playoffs. You really don’t know until game time but the doc says they sewed him up and he’s going to be fine.”
Johnson wouldn’t give credit to Glendening’s persistence, but the 29-goal scorer during the regular season has clearly been frustrated by Wings’ grinding fourth-line center.
“To be honest with you, you don’t really think too much about who you are playing against,” Johnson said following the game. “I kind of just look at the center if we’re talking a draw because I’ll try to do something different. I didn’t really notice too much. I don’t know who was out there.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper was more complimentary of Glendening’s skills.
“I coached against him in the minors,” Cooper said. “He's an extremely responsible guy. There aren't too many players like Luke Glendening. He had done a good job on them (the second line). He's a good player for them.”