The Tampa Bay centre, whose playmaking ability was one of the keys to the Lightning’s run to last year’s Stanley Cup Final, scored two third-period goals and also had a pair of assists Friday night to lead the defending Eastern Conference champions to a 5-2 victory in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
Johnson also tormented the Red Wings in the opening round a year ago with six goals and an assist in the Lightning’s four wins. In Detroit’s three victories in the series, the 25-year-old didn’t score a point.
"The kid has got a lot of heart. He is a huge part of our team," Lightning centre Brian Boyle said. "He is leading the way right now. It is huge for us."
Ben Bishop had 30 saves for Tampa Bay, which took the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home despite playing without injured leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos and defenceman Anton Stralman.
Johnson, who has a goal and two assists in the series, isn’t the only reason why.
"The playoffs are a rollercoaster and you don’t want to be on the highs and lows, you want to be right in the middle," Johnson said. "I think our team stayed composed, played well, and we just kept on grinding."
A bloody brawl involving several players capped this one, with 14 penalties called — including a game misconduct on Justin Abdelkader — with 54 seconds left. Tampa Bay’s Mike Blunden was left with his face bloodied after fighting with Abdelkader.
"It’s just a scrum. It’s just part of the game. It happens," Blunden said. "Emotions get high and unfortunately my visor came down and split me open. It’s part of the game. It’s part of the playoffs."
Game 3 is Sunday in Detroit, where the Red Wings won both regular-season meetings between the teams.
"We’ve got to take care of business at home," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said.
Dating to last spring, the Red Wings have dropped four straight playoff games to the Lightning.
"My No. 1 focus is on us playing good hockey," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "We’ve got to make sure that we play with great intensity. We’ve got to make sure we control our emotions … and concentrate on the things it takes to win hockey games."
Johnson put Tampa Bay ahead for good barely two minutes after Detroit’s Brad Richards made it 2-2 with a power-play goal. Kucherov and Boyle also scored for the Lightning, who tacked on Killorn’s empty-netter with 2:14 remaining.
Johnson also had two assists, the first on Kucherov’s 5-on-3 power-play goal. Kucherov and Killorn had the primary assists on Johnson’s goals, and Jonathan Drouin got his first career playoff point, setting up Boyle to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Rookie Dylan Larkin scored a first-period goal for Detroit, which outshot the Lightning (32-31) for the second straight game.
The line of Johnson, Kucherov and Killorn had three goals and three assists for Tampa Bay in Game 1, with Killorn scoring the winner to finish a comeback from a 2-1 deficit.
Kucherov’s third goal of the series, on a shot from the right circle that skipped over Howard’s left shoulder, got the Lightning off to another strong start. Victor Hedman and Johnson assisted after Kucherov hit the crossbar from the left circle with Red Wings Gustav Nyquist (slashing) and Abdelkader (tripping) in the penalty box.
Larkin’s first career goal made it 1-1 at 3:30 of the second period, but the Red Wings failed to take advantage of three power-play opportunities and entered the final period trailing by a goal after Boyle scored from the slot off a pass from Drouin, who has played a bigger than expected role for the Lightning since being recalled from the minors on April 7.
Detroit pulled even again, with Richards scoring on the team’s fifth power-play opportunity of the night. The Red Wings were 0 for 8 in the series before that goal.
It didn’t stay that way long, with Killorn taking the puck around the back to the net to feed Johnson standing in front for an easy tap in.
"That’s not good," Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg said. "Obviously when you score, you want to keep the momentum on your side as long as possible, and we were not able to do that."
NOTES: Bishop, who led the NHL in goals-against average and was second in save percentage, set the tone early for the Lightning, stopping 15 shots in the opening period. … Larkin went from not being sure he’d be on Detroit’s roster in the preseason to scoring a team-high 23 goals and tying for third on the team with 45 points. … This is only the third time in 18 series that Tampa Bay has taken a 2-0 lead.