Stanley Cup Final: Jack Johnson, Corey Perry playing vital roles

The Stanley Cup Finals shone with the megawatt brilliance of Colorado defenseman Cale Makar and forwards Valeri Nichushkin and Andrei Burakovsky, who created a feast of breathless rushes and scintillating puck moves while overpowering two-time defending champions Tampa Bay’s defense with amazing ease shredded .

Colorado’s stars made it big on Saturday in the rowdy Ball Arena in a 7-0 Lightning win, ignited by first-period goals from Nichushkin (on the power play), former duck Josh Manson (after a two-for-one with former duck Andrew Cogliano) and Burakovsky’s rebound from a shot by Mikko Rantanen. The Avalanche will take a 2-0 lead against Tampa in Game 3 on Monday and can be confident that 47 of 52 teams that won the first two games of the finals have lifted the trophy.

But behind the stars on both teams are role players who have traveled the hard roads to get here, players who contribute to and lure hockey history with their tenacity and willingness to take on smaller roles than they once filled. They don’t always appear on highlight shows, but are vital to team success.

Jack Johnson was told, if not in as many words, that the Kings would be better off without him 10 years ago when GM Dean Lombardi sold him to Columbus two months before the playoffs. Lombardi was proven right: In exchange for Johnson and a first-round draft pick, the Kings acquired forward Jeff Carter, the last piece in their 2012 cup run and a prolific leader in their 2014 triumph.

Corey Perry was said three years ago to have lost the growl that became his trademark during the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup championship run, and in 2011 helped him become the only player in franchise history to be named Most Valuable player of the NHL was selected. Then-general manager Bob Murray was so sure the Ducks would be better off without Perry that he paid the aggressive but experienced right wing not to play for them, buying up the final two years of Perry’s contract.

Johnson, a deep defender for Colorado until Samuel Girard was injured in the second round of the playoffs, and Perry, a fourth-liner for Tampa Bay, are well past their star tournaments. But each has strengthened their team in important ways while enjoying an unlikely career rebirth.

Johnson, 35, played 12 minutes and 13 seconds on Saturday and was +2 on defense with one goal and one blocked shot. He came to Colorado training camp for a tryout last September and refused to give up his dream of playing in a cup final. It came true in his 16th NHL season in Colorado’s 4-3 overtime win on Wednesday.

Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson controls the puck in front of Lightning center Ross Colton.

Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson controls the puck in front of Lightning center Ross Colton in Colorado’s 7-0 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday.

(John Locher/Associated Press)

“It was everything I imagined,” he said ahead of Saturday’s game. “I was trying to stay pretty calm, cool and collected because I just knew it was another hockey game. The adrenaline would kick in once I was on the ice with the atmosphere and the fans and everything. It was pretty amazing.”

He wasn’t out of place. He not only survived, but thrived after touring the NHL in recent seasons and filing for bankruptcy after his parents used $20 million of his earnings on themselves.

“You never know if you’ll get the opportunity to play for it. And we’ve worked so hard this year to get to this point where we have an opportunity now,” Johnson said. “You never know if we’ll ever come back here. It took me so long to get this chance here. I think all young people understand that too. It’s something special and we’re trying to make the most of it.”

Perry is the second NHL player, after Marian Hossa, to appear in three consecutive cup finals with three different teams — and at this rate, he will be the first to lose all three. After falling to the Lightning in 2020 with the Dallas Stars and 2021 with the Montreal Canadiens, Perry joined Tampa Bay on a two-year, $2 million free agent contract. He believed he had more to give and he has scored five goals and eight points while being his annoying old self at net.

In Saturday’s first half, as the Lightning struggled to stay within range of the high-flying Avalanche, Perry ran afoul of goaltender Darcy Kuemper to distract him. In the second half, after Colorado extended their lead to 5-0 with another goal from Nichushkin and a terrific solo performance from Darren Helm, Perry came on with Colorado forward JT Compher and received minor penalties for rough and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Lightning forward Corey Perry tries to kick the puck in front of Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Lightning fast forward Corey Perry attempts to kick the puck in front of Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

(John Locher/Associated Press)

Being the villain is a fire that burned hotter than ever after the Ducks sent him away. “It wasn’t easy being bought out. I’m telling you. For the ego, for everything,” Perry said. “But I checked that at the door when I got to Dallas. I just took what they gave me. I just wanted to prove to everyone that I can keep playing hockey in this league and that’s all I’m really trying to do, be effective on the ice and help the team win in any way I can.”

He couldn’t do that on Saturday. Colorado, who finished scoring in the third third with shorthanded and power play goals from Makar, was too quick, too accurate, too overwhelming. Perry could fall short again while Johnson finally touches the trophy. The Stanley Cup trail will be glorious for some and gruesome for others, but this year it’s a star-studded hit. Stanley Cup Final: Jack Johnson, Corey Perry playing vital roles

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