Tyler Johnson had his mentor chasing him from behind, but he was never going to allow himself to get caught. With the Lightning shorthanded by two men, and his team hoping not to fall into an 0-2 hole in the Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers Monday night, Johnson had a breakaway, with Martin St. Louis and teammate Alex Killorn a step behind him.
"I actually went the entire way, I was thinking drop pass to 'Killer,' but he was yelling, 'No, no, no,' '' Johnson said. "So I'm glad he was talking on it. I kind of got lucky. Lundqvist made the save and it came back and I was able to get the rebound, just enough.''
Johnson did just enough to get the puck past Henrik Lundqvist three times, scoring a hat trick in the 6-2 win that gave the Lightning a split of the first two games.
"Tyler Johnson, the bigger the game, the better he plays,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He put the team on his back, and we all follow.''
Johnson gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead at 5:38 of the first period in a game in which Tampa Bay spent much of the opening period playing shorthanded. With former Ranger Brian Boyle -- who returned to the lineup after missing Game 1 on Saturday -- in the penalty box and Jason Garrison in there with him, Johnson's first goal gave the Lightning a lead, which Cooper thought was key.
"For us to take four minors in the first 10 minutes, five-on-three for 1:21, and not only come out of that even but to come up with the lead, I thought that was a huge momentum swing. It gave us a lot of confidence,'' Cooper said.
And after the Rangers tied it on a goal by Chris Kreider, Johnson scored at 11:15 of the first period and 8:17 of the second to give Tampa Bay a lead it would not relinquish.
His goals were his ninth, 10th and 11th of the playoffs, which makes him the postseason leader. That's pretty good for a guy who's just 5-8 and who wasn't even drafted.
Johnson downplays getting any motivation from the desire to prove people wrong. After scoring 24 goals as a rookie last season and 29 in the 2014-15 regular season, he's proved everything he needs to prove.
The symbolism of Johnson getting his first goal with St. Louis -- the former Lightning star and his former linemate -- chasing him was hard to overlook.
"He's done tremendous things for the league and tremendous things for me,'' Johnson said of St. Louis. "Last year, he really taught me how to play the game at the NHL level. When [Ondrej] Palat and I were on his line for a good chunk of the season, I think we learned a lot.''