The Hershey Bears tied up their Calder Cup Finals series with the Coachella Valley Firebirds 2-2 on Thursday night. The Bears’ top line scored all three of the goals in the 3-2 victory but the true unsung hero of the win was perhaps a defenseman who didn’t even tally a single point, Lucas Johansen.
Johansen came up with multiple clutch defensive plays, including two in the final moments of regulation that powered Hershey to their second win in the series. Bears head coach Todd Nelson remarked postgame that “the guys sacrificed themselves” and no player embodied that more than Johansen who earned the third star of the game for his efforts.
Johansen’s first big moment came earlier in the game with 11:25 remaining in the second period and the Bears on a penalty kill.
Coachella Valley was firmly entrenched in the Hershey zone when Jesper Froden picked up a loose puck in the slot and instead of shooting, fed Cameron Hughes backdoor for a sure tap-in tally to tie the game 2-2. Johansen immediately turned, dropped to two knees, and deflected the puck into the corner.
Lucas Johansen with a huge shot block! pic.twitter.com/wYtDbcVmyE
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) June 16, 2023
The Washington Capitals’ 2016 first-round pick’s next example of defensive brilliance came after the Firebirds pulled netminder Joey Daccord for an extra skater and were pushing for the tying marker with less than a minute in the final period.
Johansen, who was hobbled by that earlier big block, first made a potential goal-saving poke check on a cross-ice feed. The puck was then recycled to the point and he made yet another huge block, taking a shot to the midsection before dropping on top of the puck and earning a whistle by freezing it.
Chocolate-smothered block by JoJo! 🍫 pic.twitter.com/DmOOP2Au1P
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) June 16, 2023
Johansen, who got into his second and third career NHL games with the Caps this past season, scored his first two career AHL playoff goals during this run to the Cup Finals.
The 25-year-old has formed a great partnership with fellow Caps prospect Vincent Iorio on Hershey’s third pairing. Overall, he has five points (2g, 3a) in 17 postseason games but his impact has been more felt on the team’s penalty kill and on the defensive side of the puck.
“All series he’s been huge,” fellow defenseman Logan Day said of Johansen on Thursday. “All year. He’s been here for what, five or six years? So for him this always means a little more. He’s been playing great. It’s the little stuff like that, that goes unnoticed by most people but in the room everybody is so proud of him. He’s playing really well.”
Johansen had his ultra-clutch outing in front of now Caps head coach Spencer Carbery and multiple members of the Caps’ top front office brass who were in attendance at Giant Center. Johansen played under Carbery for three seasons in Hershey from 2018 to 2021.
The Caps currently have five NHL defenseman under contract for next season with restricted free agent Martin Fehervary likely to follow this offseason. If no further signing is made, Johansen will be a prime contender to fight for one of the few remaining roster spots on the Caps with his partner Iorio and SHL-signee Hardy Häman Aktell.
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