DETROIT — Jonathan Drouin rewarded the faith and patience of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Drouin’s third assist set up Ondrej Palat for the game-winning goal with 2:59 left in the third period, lifting the Lightning to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
Not long ago, Drouin’s future with the franchise was as clear as mud.
“I’m not really thinking about what happened before,” he said. “I’m past that point, I’m just playing hockey. Definitely feels really good. I don’t think it’s surreal. I’m happy to be back here helping the team.”
After a solid rookie season last year, Drouin failed to report to his second demotion to the minors and was suspended by the team in January until March. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman gave his No. 3 overall pick in 2013 a second chance, calling him up to the NHL less than two weeks ago and he played in the last two games of the regular season.
“The one thing that gets missed in all of this, we never ever gave up on Jonathan,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s a young kid and he’s finding his way in pro hockey.”
If Detroit doesn’t find a way to solve its lingering problems on the power play and now while killing penalties, its 25th straight postseason appearance will likely end very soon.
Game 5 is Thursday night at Tampa Bay.
“Either you win or you go home and the season’s over,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Palat was in a perfect position — right in front of the net — to make the most of Drouin’s slick centering pass.
“I was looking for a stick,” Drouin said.
Drouin played a part in Nikita Kucherov scoring power-play goals in the first and second periods to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead late in the second. Detroit’s Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist scored late in the second period to tie the game.