Tyler Johnson powered a determined Tampa Bay Lightning to a 6-2 Game Two victory over the New York Rangers on Monday, the center’s hat-trick inspiring the visitors to an Eastern Conference Final series-tying triumph.
Johnson, a 24-year-old NHL All-Star, scored twice in a penalty-filled first period and added another in the second, while towering netminder Ben Bishop stopped 34-of-36 shots to silence the Madison Square Garden crowd.
The young Tampa Bay center scored the first three goals for the Lightning, who carried a 3-2 lead into the third period.
Alex Killorn scored twice and Steven Stamkos added another to turn a tight game into a rout in the final period as Tampa Bay bounced back to level the best-of-seven series after a 2-1 loss in Game One.
It was Johnson’s fourth multi-goal game of the playoffs and gave him 11 tallies this postseason.
“I’m just happy to be here. I’m living my dream,” said the 5-foot-9-inch sparkplug Johnson.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, critical of his team’s effort in their opening loss, saw a big difference.
“I think in Game One we participated in a hockey game and in Game Two we came to win a hockey game,” he said.
“Tyler Johnson, the bigger the game, the better he plays. He put our team on his back and we all followed.”
It was the first time this postseason that a New York game was decided by more than a single goal.
“No doubt their top players had very strong games, and a couple of our guys didn’t have their best game tonight,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Twelve penalties were called, including seven in the opening period, and a game misconduct issued to New York’s Tanner Glass in the third.
“Our will and determination were at a much higher level than in Game One,” Cooper said. “We were much more physical. Tonight, we were getting dirty.”
The resulting power plays provided non-stop action though not always to the benefit of the team with the man advantage.
Johnson opened the scoring on a breakaway goal barely five minutes into the game with the Rangers enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage.
New York tied it at 1-1 when Chris Kreider stuffed in a rebound for a power play goal before Johnson struck again, beating goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from the left face-off circle for another power play goal.
Johnson made it 3-1 by flicking the puck into the net in traffic in front of the goal eight minutes into the second period, and Derek Stepan’s goal six minutes later was as close as the Rangers would come.
The series shifts to Tampa Bay for Game Three on Wednesday.