And to think, there was once a time when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jonathan Drouin had no use for one another.
Now, Drouin’s spot in the Lightning lineup is not only firmly secure, but the left winger is making important contributions in playoff victories. Drouin scored his first career post-season goal and added an assist in a 4-1 Game 2 win on Saturday as Tampa Bay evened its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Islanders.
The Lightning-Drouin drama has been well documented this season. The Lightning demoted the star prospect to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in January, prompting Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, to reveal his client had asked to be traded back in November. Drouin left the Crunch less than three weeks later as he waited to be dealt.
However, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman held on to the player he selected third overall in the 2013 NHL draft after the trade deadline passed. The 21-year-old returned to the Crunch after the deadline, but was even suspended for an AHL game for sleeping in. Yzerman only summoned Drouin from the minors on April 7 because his team was dealing with a rash of injuries, including the blood clot suffered by captain Steven Stamkos. Drouin had four goals and 10 points in 21 NHL games this season.
After Saturday’s performance, Drouin is averaging a point per game in these playoffs. He has six assists to go along with his goal in seven contests. For point of reference, Drouin only appeared in six games during the 2015 post-season as the Lightning marched to the Stanley Cup final.
Drouin’s first career goal on Saturday turned out to be the game winner. He picked up a broken-up pass from center Valtteri Filppula and eluded Islanders’ Nikolay Kulemin and Travis Hamonic before backhanding a shot in tight by goaltender Thomas Greiss. The goal came at 11:55 of the first period.
Drouin also had a secondary assist on Victor Hedman’s second-period power-play goal.
Tyler Johnson scored twice for the Lightning and now has four goals and 10 points, one back of Islanders’ John Tavares for tops among playoff point-getters. Tavares, meanwhile, was held pointless for the second time in eight games.
Kulemin scored for the Islanders. The Lightning outshot the Islanders 30-20. Ben Bishop was credited with the win in the Lightning net.
But this game, it was Drouin that stood out, just as he has during large stretches in the playoffs overall. It wasn’t too long ago that wouldn’t have seemed very likely.