By the time he scored his first goal, racing down the open ice ahead of Marty St. Louis to notch a short-handed goal, someone had already brought up the notion.
By the time he scored his second one, faking a pass and then lining a beautiful top-shelf goal, it was a full-blown debate.
By the time he scored his third one, crashing the crowded net and poking the puck into the goal, there may have been no dissenting votes.
Just like that, the discussion had swung his way.
Just like that, you could argue that Tyler Johnson had become the finest Tampa Bay Lightning player of them all.
Johnson, who has taken these NHL Playoffs and turned them into his personal highlight film, scored the first post-season hat trick in the history of the Lightning Monday night. He scored short-handed, on a power play and even-handed to lead the Bolts to a 6-2 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
He has been so good in this post-season. Johnson has 11 goals, four more than the next-highest scorer in the league. And although Steven Stamkos is still the captain, and he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs on a deflection, Johnson has made his mark. Yes, goaltender Ben Bishop had 35 saves Monday night, but he didn’t electrify his team the way Johnson did.
If there was a keeper goal of the bunch, it was Johnson’s first goal, when St. Louis fumbled away the puck on a 5-on-3 power play. It ended on Johnson’s stick, who outraced St. Louis the length of the ice to score.
In a way, it was nice symbolism. Johnson, the current undrafted, undersized star, out skated St. Louis, the former underrated, undersized star. Johnson won. These days, it seems he always wins.
It put control of the series into the hands of the Lightning, who can now close this thing out simply by winning its home games.
Much has been said of Johnson in these playoffs. When a guy scores 11 goals – after scoring 29 all year – that tends to happen. Johnson shot, he passed, he hit.
And along the way, he settled the dodgy stomach of coach Jon Cooper.
It had been Cooper, remember, who suggested that he wanted to “vomit” after watching the films of the Lightning’s opening loss.
This will make him feel better.
“The bigger the game, the better he plays,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson. “It’s unreal to watch.”
It was a reminder that the Lightning had won all three regular season matchups with the Randers, outscoring them 15-7. The Lightning scored three power play goals against Lundqvist, who had held opponents to two goals or less in 13 of the Rangers’ 15 playoff games.
Of course, Johnson didn’t play in most of those games.
Other goals for the Lightning were by Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos. For the night, Johnson’s Triplets Line had seven points on three goals and four assists.
The Lightning’s much-discussed power play is faring well as of late. It has scored on 11 of the last 26 chances, and it has scored in five of the last seven playoff games.
The series resumes in Tampa Bay Wednesday night with game four on Friday. Game Five is Sunday in New York.