Diminutive Johnson a huge force for Lightning

Tue May 19, 2015 4:00pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Undersized Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, passed over in every NHL Draft he was eligible for, is silencing his critics by carrying the Tampa Bay Lightning on his shoulders in the thick of the playoffs.

The 5-9 (1.75m) Johnson, once considered too small for the NHL, has a playoff-leading 11 goals that have put the Lightning three wins away from upsetting the top-seeded New York Rangers and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I don't think size really plays a big role," Johnson said on Monday after scoring short-handed, even strength and on the power to record the first hat trick in Lightning playoff history and tie the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

"Everyone plays the game different regardless of how big you are, and you've just got to find what works for you."

Johnson, already being talked about as a front-runner to be named the playoffs' Most Valuable Player, set the tone early and at the expense of his former mentor while the host Rangers were on a two-man advantage.

Former Lightning player Martin St. Louis stumbled while trying to collect a pass and Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn pounced on the loose puck and sent Johnson on a breakaway for the game's first goal about five minutes after the opening faceoff.

Johnson added another goal shortly after the midway mark of the opening period and then scored what proved to be the game-winning goal eight minutes into the second period.

It was the 24-year-old American's fourth multi-goal game of the playoffs -- all of them coming when his team trailed in a series.   Continued...

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) controls the puck against New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein (8) during the first period of game two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. May 18, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports