TAMPA — Tyler Johnson’s noteriety flew under the radar for a good portion of his first NHL season.
Now, however, the Lightning rookie might very well be on everybody’s screen when it comes to the Calder Trophy race.
Johnson registered his first career hat trick on Saturday in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory against Colorado in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at The Forum.
The Lightning have won three consecutive games for the first time since before Christmas and kept pace with Boston for a share of the lead in the Atlantic Division. Victor Hedman had his secodn consecutive three assist night, Valtteri Filppula had a goal and an assist while rookie defenseman Mark Barberio had his third goal in the past three games. Marty St. Louis extended his scoring streak to 10 games and Ben Bishop finished with 25 saves for his 26th victory of the season.
But the star of the night was Johnson, who became just the second rookie in franchise history to record a hat trick, joining Steven Stamkos who did it on Feb. 17, 2009 against Chicago.
With his three-goal night, the undrafted free agent acquisition pulled into a tie for the rookie scoring lead (34 points) with Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon and with 16 goals trails MacKinnon by one for the rookie goal-scoring lead.
“It feels pretty good,’’ said Johnson, who extended his scoring streak to a career-best five games. “It’s better to get the win. But I’m glad that’s over with, I have one of those (hat tricks), so it’s good.’’
Just pretty good?
“It’s one of those things you have to get lucky to get, and tonight was a good night for me,’’ Johnson said. “I couldn’t have done it without my linemates, and I just happened to be in the right spots.’’
Johnson was the trailer at the right post on his first goal, putting in a Hedman rebound that hit the post to open the scoring at 7:15 of the first period. He found another rebound of a Hedman shot, pouncing on a loose puck with 5:22 left in the third period to give Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead and finished off the night by tipping in another Hedman shot with 3:05 left in the game to send the hats flying to the ice.
“You’re sitting there watching two of the best rookies in the league (including MacKinnon) so it was fairly decent timing on Tyler’s part to net three in this game,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “And he was on it tonight. For him to get three against (the Colorado top line) it’s a pretty impressive effort. He was playing a helluva game on both ends of the ice.’’
Johnson’s third-period goals proved pivotal, as well. After Barberio and Filppula scored following Johnson’s first goal to extend the Lightning lead to 3-0 late in the second period, the Avalanche surged and scored twice in 30 seconds in the final two minutes - one by John Mitchell at 18:33 and one by Tyson Barrie at 19:03 - to make what looked like a blowout in the making into a tight game.
But the Lightning came out in the third regaining their composure, stayed disciplined and eventually added the insurance from Johnson late to secure the victory.
“In the third, we pushed the pace, pushed pucks forward and stayed on them on the forecheck,’’ Barberio said. “And it’s awesome (for Johnson to get the hat trick. It’s been coming, he’s been playing great and this is sort of a big breakout game for him. It’s nice to see.’’