On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning completed their first-ever playoff series against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning won the Sunshine State Showdown four games to two, closing out the series with a 4-0 win at Amalie Arena. Ondrej Palat played well during the series, scoring two game-winning goals and a total of three points. With his goal in Game 4, Palat surpassed Martin St. Louis to become second in playoff goals in franchise history.
A Diamond in the Rough
Palat could easily go down as one of the best draft picks in Lightning franchise history. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. As the 208th pick of the draft, he was just three selections shy of being picked last. He is the type of player that has worked hard for every inch to get to where he is today.
He was first scouted at 13 years old by Andre Ruel, then a scout for the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Palat went on to play two seasons for Drummondville before he was drafted, scoring 136 points in 120 games with the team. He has since developed into a dominant goalscorer and playmaker at the NHL level. He has scored 374 points in 551 regular-season games with the Lightning. When speaking about Palat, Ruel said,
“It might be the best seventh-round pick ever…Ondrej is a great story. He had the skills. He had the will. His competitiveness is off the charts. In my 25 years coaching in junior, I’ve never seen anyone compete like him. He can do everything on the ice to help a team. The ultimate team player.”“Discovering Ondrej Palat: How the Lightning landed playoff star in seventh round” by Joe Smith, The Athletic, Sep 17, 2020.
Since coming into the NHL, Palat has been a force for the Lightning, especially during the playoffs. He has tallied 34 goals and 29 assists in 98 postseason appearances for the Bolts. He was most productive during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, recording 11 goals and 18 points in 25 games.
One of his most memorable goals came during Game 2 of the second round. The Boston Bruins, who led the series 1-0, tied the game late in the third period to force overtime. Just 4:40 into the extra frame, Palat scored to tie the series. His goal was the spark the Lightning needed. They went on to win their following three games to advance to the next round.
When hockey fans think of the Lightning, names like Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Brayden Point often come to mind. The Lightning are a very talented team, so it is not surprising that someone has to take a backseat to the star players. However, it is clear that No. 18 should be one of the players in the spotlight. When speaking about Palat, head coach Jon Cooper said:
“He just does all the things that are unnoticed but a line doesn’t survive without him. I’ve just watched him every year. He doesn’t get the attention that some of the other guys he plays with, but you need a Palat on your line. I’m sure guys like Kuch and Point will be the first to tell you, ‘We need a Palat on our line.’ That’s the ultimate compliment.”“Discovering Ondrej Palat: How the Lightning landed playoff star in seventh round” by Joe Smith, The Athletic, Sep 17, 2020.
Palat did garner some attention during the first half of the season after he scored 27 points in 28 games. He finished the regular season with 15 goals and 31 assists. His 46 points exceeded the 41 points he tallied last season despite playing in 14 fewer games. The 30-year-old forward continues to impress and will play a key role in Tampa’s quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Surpassing a Lightning Legend
On May 22, Palat scored his 34th career playoff goal for the Lightning in Game 4 against the Panthers. He now has the second-most playoff goals in franchise history, surpassing St. Louis. To eclipse one of the most talented goalscorers to wear the Bolts’ uniform is quite an accomplishment.
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In 63 playoff games with the Lightning, St. Louis tallied 33 goals and 68 points. He led them to their first Stanley Cup championship during the 2003-04 season, scoring 24 points in 23 playoff games. He had a huge impact on the series, scoring the overtime-winning goal in Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup at home in front of their fans.
Palat trails only Kucherov in playoff goals for the Lightning. Kucherov currently leads the franchise in postseason goals, 39, assists, 67, and points, 106. Nevertheless, Palat finds himself in great company atop Tampa’s playoff scoring leaderboard. The Lightning will need him to keep the momentum going as they are set to begin Round 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.