It felt somewhat fitting that the first two goals scored by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2018 playoffs would be directly influenced by Tyler Johnson. His relentless play alongside Brayden Point and longtime linemate Ondrej Palat helped to shut down the New Jersey Devils in Game 1, propelling the team to a win.
Incredible postseason play like this is nothing new for Johnson, though. When the lights are brightest, he has shined for the Lightning since the 2015 playoff run that took them to the Stanley Cup Final. His play propelled the team to greatness, and if not for an injury, very well could have taken them all the way to the Cup. In short, there is something special about what he does in the postseason.
Johnson Is Good in the Regular Season…
This isn’t saying that Johnson is bad in the regular season, either. This year, he posted 21 goals and 50 points, his highest totals in three years.
The biggest issue Johnson deals with throughout the regular season is consistency. He will be an offensive driver of the team for the better part of a month, then suddenly disappear from the scoresheets for weeks on end. For example, over the last 13 games of the 2017-18 season, he posted just one goal and two points after scoring in three straight games before this stretch of poor play.
Overall, if he can keep his production around 50 points each year, it will help justify the seven-year, $35-million contract he signed in 2017. With a no-trade clause kicking in this July, expect to hear rumblings about Johnson being a trade target at the draft. However, if his excellent play in the postseason continues, the Lightning will have no reason to move on from their star center.
…But Truely Excels in the Postseason
In the postseason, Johnson has been able to consolidate an entire year’s worth of great play in just a few short weeks. While the playoffs introduce a brighter spotlight on each game, Johnson is one of those personalities who excels in the spotlight, allowing it to bring out his best game each and every night.
For example, when the Lightning were down two goals in Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2015 quarterfinals, it was Johnson who led the charge to turn the tide. He would go on to score two goals and three points in the last five minutes and overtime, acting as a catalyst for the comeback. While the Lightning could have easily quit the game and fallen behind 3-1 in the series, his play bailed out the team and salvaged a series that they ultimately won in seven games.
Johnson Using Size to His Advantage
Part of what makes Johnson so potent in the playoffs is his diminutive size. While this is usually seen as a negative trait in a sport like hockey, being small does have its advantages when utilized properly. When he is at his best, Johnson is able to utilize his speed in order to spread out his opponents at the blue line, opening up the rink to his teammates.
While Johnson plays a smart, fast game he is also scrappy and willing to take a hit when necessary. This sort of play lends itself well to playoff hockey because he can annoy defenses with his speed and skill and then get them to overplay the body when they try to slow him down. This can wear out opponents throughout the course of a seven-game series as they chase him around the ice, causing them to be out of position and giving his linemates open shots at the net.
Ranking Johnson With the Lightning Legends
Throughout his career, Johnson has been an absolute monster for the Lightning in the playoffs, scoring 44 points in 48 games. This ranks him fourth all-time in Lightning postseason scoring, sitting just three points behind Brad Richards for third place.
Depending on the length of the Lightning’s postseason this year, he could surpass Vincent Lecavalier’s 52 points, and if he plays through the entirety of his contract, should threaten Martin St. Louis as the top postseason scorer in franchise history.
The Only Playoff Success for Johnson Is a Cup
This postseason success means nothing to Johnson, though, if it doesn’t end with him holding the Stanley Cup in the end, as he said himself to the Players’ Tribune in the excellent article ‘Another Chance’:
I’ve won a Memorial Cup in the CHL, a world junior gold medal, a Calder Cup in the AHL — but the thrill of those victories doesn’t offset the feeling of a Cup final loss. Not even close.
Johnson and the entire Tampa Bay Lightning know what their ultimate goal is. If he can continue his strong postseason play, he will be one of the deciding factors of them reaching that goal.