Lightning's Drouin ditches drama for redemption

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — In a way Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin has come full circle.

Jonathan Drouin has four goals and six assists in 21 games since returning from the minors.

Unable to crack the lineup earlier this season, Drouin was sent to Syracuse in the American Hockey League but didn’t immediately report.

When Drouin did get to Syracuse, he scored 11 goals in 17 games and earned a ticket back to the NHL when star forward Steven Stamkos was lost for the season with a blood clot in his arm.

Drouin wound up scoring two goals in two games and now enters the playoffs having Lightning fans believing he could ease the pain of Stamkos’ loss.

For his part, Drouin just wants to contribute.

“This is the fun time, we all know that,” said Drouin, who had four goals and six assists in 21 games this season. “I put all that (this season’s drama) behind me, put that aside for a while, and now I’m just focusing on playoff series against Detroit.”

A 2013 first-round draft pick, third overall, Drouin has elite offensive potential and many analysts believed he’d be traded at the deadline.

But Steve Yzerman, Lightning general manager, made the decision to keep Drouin, which proved to be beneficial.

Red Wings vs. Lightning: How they match up

Drouin feels more at ease than he did earlier in the season.

“I’m more comfortable, less thinking on the ice and just (playing),” Drouin said. “Coop (Lightning coach Jon Cooper) has been great since I came back. I’m definitely more comfortable.

“You have to make sure you’re accountable and responsible. In your defensive zone, neutral zone, everywhere, you want to be in position where you can be trusted.”

Johnson ready

The Lightning were planning on having forward Tyler Johnson (upper body) in the lineup for Game 1, something that didn’t look possible last weekend.
Johnson was shoved into the boards, lost his balance, and hit his head on the boards.

But Johnson practiced Tuesday and was on the ice for the morning skate Wednesday.

“You don’t want to be dealing with stuff, but everyone’s dealt with something, especially at this point of the year,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on the body.

“You go through the locker rooms of both teams, guys are going to be (hurt).”

Johnson scored six goals in last season’s seven-game series victory over the Red Wings.

Opening night struggles

Tampa has had difficulties in Game 1’s in recent years, including last year’s 3-2 loss to the Red Wings despite outshooting the Wings 46-14.

The Lightning eventually rallied in the series to defeat the Wings, similarly in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers where Tampa lost but the Lightning rallied and won Game 7.

Goalie Ben Bishop shut out the Red Wings and Rangers in both Game 7s.

“That being said, we really want to win Game 1,” Cooper said.

No Stralman

Tampa will miss veteran defenseman Anton Stralman (fractured leg) in this series but has adjusted to life without him.

“He’s a tough guy to replace but other guys have stepped up,” defenseman Braydon Coburn said. “Guys have more responsibility and everybody kind of relishes that role.”

Twitter: @tkulfan