After a lackluster effort in Game 1 of the second round, one had to expect the stars of the Tampa Bay Lightning to rise to the occasion in Game 2.
They did just that. Center Tyler Johnson and goaltender Ben Bishop led the way, as the Lightning defeated the Islanders 4-1 on Saturday to even the series at one.
But it was more than just those two playing well for Tampa Bay in Game 2; the Lightning also received key contributions from right winger Jonathan Drouin and No. 1 defenseman Victor Hedman.
Drouin has experienced a tumultuous season to say the least. Tampa Bay sent the 21-year-old down the minors around the new year, and he wasn’t too happy about it, even filing for an official trade request. More drama ensued, as Drouin missed an AHL game and the Lightning suspended their young, troubled star.
Of course, no trade was made, and that’s proving to be working out for everyone. The 21-year-old is playing some of his best hockey at the most important time of the year.
He had four assists during the first round, including three in Game 4 against Detroit. He added another assist in Game 1 versus New York, and then Saturday, he recorded his first career playoff goal.
His score was Tampa Bay’s second of the first 12 minutes of the game, and it gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Tampa Bay wouldn’t look back from there.
Johnson may have scored two goals, but Drouin was the real difference marker. He was second on the team with four shots on goal and fourth with four high-danger scoring chances. He also finished with a plus-7 Corsi differential.
Tampa Bay’s top scoring line accounted for 10 of the team’s 12 goals in the first round, so generating more secondary scoring was definitely a key for the Lightning coming into this series. That was such a concern for coach Jon Cooper that he actually broke up his top line before Game 1 and moved left winger Alex Killorn to the second unit and reunited the “triplets” together.
Rather than Killorn providing the extra scoring threat on the second line, though, it was Drouin on Saturday. His presence will remain extremely important throughout this series.
Like Drouin, Hedman showed Saturday the difference that he can make in this series. He was at his very best in Game 2, starting the play that led to Johnson’s first goal and scoring on the power play, but he did much more than that.
Through the first two games of the series, Hedman has logged heavy minutes against Tavares and the top line from New York. Tavares had a goal and an assist in Game 1, but the Islanders captain had very few scoring opportunities in Game 2. Tavares registered just three shots on goal and no high-danger scoring chances.
Tavares is going to score no matter how limited his shots attempts may be, but it’s Hedman’s job to limit the opportunities as much as possible. So far, so good. Tavares averaged five shots on net in the first round; in these first two games, he has just five shots on net total.
Hedman also needs to continue to be a scoring threat from the point on the power play. His goal was far from a pretty one, as his shot was actually several feet wide of the goal and then deflected off Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan’s skate and into the net. New York has a great penalty kill and has won the special teams battle through the first two games, but perhaps Hedman’s goal gets the Tampa Bay power play going. They need their top defenseman’s shot from the point to make a difference.
Overall, this was a very nice response for the Lightning in a game they pretty much had to win. Tampa Bay dominated the possession, winning the Corsi battle 29-9 in the final two periods. New York’s only tally in the game was on the power play.
So even though the Islanders are still going home with a split, the series still seems to favor the Lightning. In the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, Tampa Bay lost Game 1 three times, but responded to win Game 2 on each occasion and then went on to take the series.
If Hedman and Drouin continue their strong play, the Islanders will have a difficult time preventing that history from repeating itself.