Tampa Bay Lightning F Jonathan Drouin Emerges A New Hero

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

In a strange twist of fate, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff fortunes have been carried on the shoulders of perhaps the most unlikely hero on the roster.

If I said a few weeks ago the Tampa Bay Lightning would find themselves within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals with a chance to clinch on home ice, many Lightning faithful would have leaped for joy and others would have simply laughed in disbelief. Not because it would have been unbelievable. Or because the team was left for dead. It would be in response to the amount of adversity they had overcome.

Many questions whirled in the minds of Tampa faithful of how their team would succeed without their captain and without their second best defenseman. We all knew it would take a Herculean effort from somewhere, but what we didn’t know was where it would come from. Tampa Bay  Lightning fans already know the likes of Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov thrive under pressure and that they can be counted on for a miracle.

But who could have predicted Jonathan Drouin? Who would’ve dared to even say his name a few weeks ago and risk that bitter taste in their mouth? The former butt of hockey jokes in Tampa has twice carried the Lightning to victory in the same fashion as the great Vincent Lecavalier could, and with all of the same skill and majesty .

From calmly handling himself while carrying the puck, to making a wise decision of what to do next, to making that crisp pass that always finds the back of the net a moment later off a teammate’s stick. He put on a clinic in Detroit in game 4 when he thrice assisted on goals, including the game-winner by Ondrej Palat in the final minutes of the contest to provide a 3-1 series lead at the time.

His most recent efforts saw him return in game 3 of the Islanders series after suffering a jarring hit by forward Thomas Hickey. The Tampa Bay  Lightning were down a goal and playing like they were shell-shocked. The offense was starting to look desperate and very little seemed to be happening until Drouin came back onto the ice.

To end regulation, coach Jon Cooper went all in by pulling Ben Bishop for an extra attacker. The gamble paid off as Drouin proved to be the catalyst for the comeback. He found Nikita Kucherov in the dying seconds of the game and suddenly the Lightning had life again in Brooklyn.

They later went on to win the game in overtime. Now fresh off a second overtime win in the contest following Drouin’s heroics, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in a familiar spot as with Detroit; up 3-1 in a playoff series going back to Tampa Bay. A win away from the Eastern Conference Finals.

It’s not just the famous moments that have made Drouin such a success in these playoffs. It is how he’s played. He has been the best puck-carrier, his speed has been the long awaited solution to the Lightning’s occasional zone entry crisis. His creativity draws double coverage and the attention of defenses to him; turning a blind eye when Drouin finds an open teammate.

Related Story: Jonathan Drouin Shows Toughness In Game 3

Perhaps most important of all, the relentless effort of Drouin and his linemates Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula, paralyzes the opposition. The game 4 overtime winner by defenseman Jason Garrison was courtesy of the John Tavares line never having the puck because the Tampa Bay Lightning would not surrender it to them.

The laughter of disbelief  should now be reserved for every time Drouin proves his doubters wrong. This writer, in particular, is guilty of thinking nothing would come of his return. Few could have predicted the impact he has had upon the Lightning’s fortunes but the impact has been nothing less of a superstar.

Who could have Jonathan Drouin was a superstar all along? Without him, the heroes of yesteryear such as Palat and Kucherov do not repeat their roles and the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff run become drastically different.

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It’s ironic: For all the jokes made about Jonathan Drouin sitting on his couch eating a bag of chips while he held out on the Syracuse Crunch, he has likely saved the rest of the Lightning from doing the same; watching other teams compete for a Stanley Cup.