NEW YORK — Tyler Johnson is carrying the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs and making a name for himself.
The 24-year-old is becoming one of the front-runners to be the postseason MVP.
Johnson scored short-handed, even strength and on the power play in tallying the first hat trick in Lightning playoff history and Tampa Bay got its high-scoring offense in gear and evened the Eastern Conference finals with a 6-2 victory over the stumbling New York Rangers on Monday night.
"Oh, Tyler Johnson, the bigger the game, the better he plays," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's Tyler Johnson. It's unreal to watch. He put the team on his back, and we all followed."
Johnson has had four multiple goal-scoring games in the postseason and each has followed a Lightning loss. The previous player with four multiple goal-scoring games in the same postseason was Jamie Langenbrunner with the Devils in 2003, the league said.
"I think every morning I'm just happy to be here and I'm living my dream," the 5-foot-8 undrafted center said. "So that's what's driving me is to try to be the best I can and play for my family. They sacrificed so much for me to be here, and I'm living my dream, so I want to keep living it as long as possible."
Alex Killorn added two goals and Steven Stamkos had one and the Lightning bounced back from a crushing late loss on Saturday and made the Presidents' Trophy winners pay for every slip, penalty and mistake.
Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan scored for the Rangers in the wide-open, penalty-filled matchup that ended New York's run of playing in 15 straight playoffs games decided by one goal.
Henrik Lundqvist, who gave up at least five goals in two of three regular-season games against Tampa Bay this season, gave up six on just 26 shots.
The series shifts to Florida for games on Wednesday and Friday.
"The mindset was a little different for whatever reason," Stamkos said. "In the first game, we weren't there mentally, physically; we didn't compete. When this group competes ... we talked about it all year, we have skill and speed to do anything if we're willing to battle and compete. We did that tonight. At times it wasn't pretty. We bent, we didn't break. Took advantage of our opportunities."
Ben Bishop kept the Rangers at bay, making 35 saves. Both Rangers goals came on the power play.
The Rangers were just sloppy. Players falling led to two Lightning goals on odd-man rushes. Tampa scored three times on the power play, once short-handed and once just after a power play ended.
New York committed way too many mistakes against a team whose speed and skill can embarrass you.
"We're in the Eastern Conference finals. We're not playing a game in December," Stepan said after the Rangers worst playoff loss since a 4-0 setback to Washington in 2009. "We're not playing a team with a poor power play. They have a really good hockey team. You see how detailed you have to be in the playoffs. You make some mistakes and they wind up in the back of your net."
Johnson came into the game leading the NHL with eight postseason goals and he increased the total to 11 before the second period was over in giving the Lightning leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1.
The first was short-handed as a two-man disadvantage was expiring. The second came on a power play and the last was even strength.
The Rangers were late into a 1:07 two-man advantage when Martin St. Louis fell trying to take a shot straight on and it sent Johnson on a breakaway with St. Louis in pursuit.
Lundqvist stopped Johnson's initial shot, but Johnson poked at the puck as St. Louis crashed into his own goaltender and the puck went in the net. The officials waved off the goal, but it was reviewed the call was overturned.
The Lightning continued to take penalties and Kreider made them pay three minutes later, putting in the rebound of St. Louis' shot.
Johnson's second goal came on a great shot just 15 seconds after Stepan was called for tripping, which was the third minor in a 60-second span. It gave the Lightning a 4-on-3 advantage and Johnson found the top corner of the net in close after getting a 2-on-1 advantage down low.
The hat trick was capped at 8:17 of the second period and, like the first, it resulted from a slip. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal fell at the Tampa Bay blue line and it set up a 2-on-1. Ondrej Palat hit the goalpost, but Johnson knocked the puck into the net off a scramble. It was also reviewed but this one stood.
The Rangers pushed back later in the second period and closed the gap to 3-2 when Stepan grabbed his own rebound and banked the puck off defenseman Braydon Coburn into the net with Bishop out of position.
New York had a couple of chances to tie the game later in the period, but Bishop stopped point shots by Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonagh.
The Lightning ended the Rangers' run of one-goal playoff games in the third period on Killorn's two goals and Stamkos' one. Defenseman Victor Hedman set up Killorn's first shortly after a penalty ended. Stamkos scored on a deflection on a power play and Killorn got his second on a power play.
The game had an ugly moment in the second period when linesman Brad Kovachik had to leave the ice after injuring a leg. He was standing against the side boards near the Lightning blue line when Stamkos checked Kevin Klein of the Rangers into him.
Kovachik had to be helped off the ice. Standby linesman Greg Devorski finished the game.
NOTES: Injured Rangers RW Mats Zuccarello started skating lightly Monday. He has not played since being hit in the face by a shot in Game 5 of the first round on April 24. ... C Brian Boyle returned to the Lightning lineup after missing Game 1 with an undisclosed injury. ... Tampa defenseman Nikita Nesterov also was in the lineup, and Jonathan Marchessault and Vladislav Namestnikov were scratched. ... The Rangers didn't make any lineup changes. ... Lundqvist is 5-13 in Game 2s in his playoff career. ... Johnson's linemate Nikita Kucherov had three assists. Killorn also had three points.