The Tampa Bay Lightning are once again flying through the Stanley Cup Playoffs without any passengers.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are one win from their sixth straight postseason series victory, up 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Second Round against the Carolina Hurricanes, because they’re getting contributions up and down the lineup each game.
Game 5 of the best-of-7 series is at Carolina on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).
“What makes really good teams really good is depth,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We saw that last year on the run. We’ve seen it in previous runs. We’re seeing it again now. That’s why we’re a good team.”
In Game 4 on Saturday, it was fourth-line center Tyler Johnson who scored the tying goal at 17:10 of the second period, with assists from linemates Ross Colton and Pat Maroon, in a 6-4 win at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
“It’s such a big goal,” forward Alex Killorn said. “When that line, they’re playing well, he scores a huge goal for us going into the third period, it’s great. It’s not like those guys have to do it every night, but you have lines that can do it every night so you don’t have to rely on any one (line).”
Johnson had to clear waivers twice before the season began just to get a chance to play a reduced role from what he’s been used to with the Lightning.
Stamkos praised his work ethic, saying it’s contagious.
“Not a lot of people see what goes on behind the scenes especially this year with how tough it has been for ‘Johnny’ with all those rumors and everything happening, the waivers,” Stamkos said. “He just comes in and he puts in the work. He’s been a huge part of this team for a really long time and had some unbelievable playoff runs with us. Scores another big playoff goal.”
In Game 1 against Carolina, a 2-1 Tampa Bay win, it was third-line forward Barclay Goodrow who scored the winning goal in what was his second game back after missing the first five in the playoffs with an upper-body injury.
Anthony Cirelli scored the winner in Game 2, also a 2-1 win. He hadn’t scored in 28 straight games before scoring in Game 3 of the first round.
Killorn scored in Game 2 and again in Game 3, a 3-2 overtime loss. He has scored six goals in the postseason.
“You just listed off multiple games so as a coach if that’s happening it means you’re playing multiple games in the playoffs, which is a good thing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Tampa Bay isn’t winning solely because of its depth, of course. The big boys have stepped up in a big way too.
Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov each scored two goals and had an assist in Game 4. Kucherov leads the NHL with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in the playoffs.
Cooper said he thought Kucherov took over Game 4 in the second period as Tampa Bay mounted its comeback from down 4-2.
He scored on the power play at 14:38 to make it 4-3 Hurricanes and had the primary assist on Stamkos’ power-play goal at 19:37 to give the Lightning a 5-4 lead. He scored again at 6:01 of the third period to make it 6-4.
“When ‘Kuch’ is doing some of the stuff he did tonight, he’s borderline unstoppable,” Cooper said. “It was great to see him do what he did tonight because we definitely needed him.”
Brayden Point had a goal and an assist in Game 4, giving him 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 10 games. Defenseman Victor Hedman had another assist, his 11th this postseason, but he also started the breakout that led to Johnson’s goal.
“At this time of the year, you check your ego at the door, it’s all about wins,” Stamkos said. “You need your top players, obviously, to play really well; we’ve seen that time in and time out, last year, this year so far. Everyone fills a role on this team and everyone is feeling good about themselves coming into games knowing what they have to do.”
The list of contributors stretches off the score sheet too.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has 11 blocked shots and is averaging 23:48 of ice time in the four games against Carolina. Erik Cernak, also a defenseman, leads Tampa Bay with 14 hits and has two assists in the series.
The third line of Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde is regularly extending shifts in the offensive zone.
All but Gourde are regulars on the penalty kill, which was 2-for-2 in Game 4.
“It’s the lessons that we’ve learned in years past, we keep implementing them,” Johnson said. “We’re a really close team. We’re a family. You see guys sacrificing their body and everything just to help the guy next to them, that goes a long way. Everyone has the same goal and that’s what we’re working toward.”