SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $49 for one year. Save 59%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $49 for one year. Save 59%.

Tyler Johnson goal hushes Joe Louis crowd

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Joe Louis Arena was loud. Like, really loud. As it tends to be this time of year. And then Joe Louis Arena was quiet. Like, really quiet.

Thank Tyler Johnson for that.

The young Tampa Bay center scored just 3 minutes, 47 seconds into a potential elimination game, and the Lightning were off and skating in a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on Monday night o force a Game 7.

That was Johnson's fifth goal of this series, and he added another one in the second period. His six goals have all come in the Lightning's three victories.

"Tyler's a special player, and it's amazing how he seems to rise to the occasion at the biggest times," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's like the bubble burst. We've been fighting to score goals, we've been shut out. Then to get one early, that was huge for us."

Johnson, a 24-year-old from Spokane, Washington, had his first taste of the playoffs last year -- and scored one goal as the Lightning were swept by the Canadiens.

This postseason, he's the reason the Lightning can win the series Wednesday night in Tampa.

Entering the series, all the focus from the Detroit side seemed to be on Steven Stamkos, and he has yet to score.

No worries. They have Johnson.

"The first goal changes the game, it changes the way you play, it changes the structure, system," Johnson said. "For us to get the first goal was something we talked about."

And getting that first goal, the Lightning — who've been shut out in each of their three losses — seemed to exhale, and a short while later, they were up 2-0 when Jason Garrison took advantage of another Wings defensive letdown.

The Wings eventually rallied in the second and third periods, but the early damage was crucial, and, ultimately, decisive.

"I thought we were going along pretty fine there at the start, and then the next thing you know, it's in our own net," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Scoring first is always a plus. It just seems to get you more relaxed and under control."

The early Johnson goal stunned a capacity JLA crowd bursting at the seams, and the Garrison goal really quieted things down.

But taking the crowd out of it wasn't the goal for Johnson, who said, "I don't think you can ever take them out."

And he was right. The crowd erupted when Petr Mrazak made a stick save for the ages in the second period, and when the Wings got on the board, and when Niklas Kronwall laid out Nikita Kucherov with a nasty hit.

It was a hit, by the way, that Cooper and Johnson didn't get a good look at, so they didn't want to call it dirty. It's the playoffs. The emotion is heavier. And so is the pressure, not that Johnson or the Lightning buckled under that.

"We were playing desperation hockey, and with that, the effort's a little bit better, the will," said Johnson, trying in vain to grow a playoff beard on his baby face.

"Either you give up or you come out swinging, and I felt with our back against the wall, we came out swinging."

More importantly, he came out scoring.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984