Lightning’s Shot Blockers are the Unsung Heroes in Pursuit of a 3-Peat

Nikita Kucherov’s pass that set up Ross Colton’s game-winning goal will probably be the main memory taken from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 2 win against the Florida Panthers. But without the physical sacrifice of a group of Lightning players, that play may have not had the impact that it did on the game. It was these players, who blocked shots that left them bruised and battered, who played a large role in a big defensive effort that kept the game tied for most of the third period where the Panthers seemed to have the upper hand.

Part of the story was that of the 24 shots that the Lightning blocked in that game, many of those shots led to some players getting banged up and having to head to the locker room. But they didn’t stay long. Each of the players that needed to be looked at returned to the ice shortly after being taken care of by the training staff. Each of them came back to contribute to a last-second Game 2 win, leading to a sweep of the two road games.

In what was a bit of foreshadowing on the night, the first player to need medical attention happened during pre-game warmup when Corey Perry was hit by a shot he took that rebounded off the crossbar and struck him in the face. He left the ice but returned before the start of the game and played with stitches near his right eye. While not one of the blocked shot injuries, Perry’s ability to shrug off the injury was an example on Thursday night from a group of guys who literally “took one for the team.” This is something that will need to continue in Game 3 and beyond if they plan to win their third straight Cup.

Brandon Hagel

Hagel knelt in front of a shot from the Panthers’ Brandon Montour early in the third period. After getting helped off the ice, he had to be helped down the tunnel by two athletic trainers but returned a couple of shifts later. Hagel said after the game that “to gain energy on the bench, get guys on their feet, get guys picking guys up, it feels good. It almost feels better than scoring a goal.” He also said that sacrificing your body for the good of the team becomes contagious, especially in a hostile road environment.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Hagel, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Besides being quite the bargain for the Lightning, this was the type of mindset that the organization was looking for when they acquired him in exchange for two conditional first-round draft picks (2023 and 2024), forward Boris Katchouk and forward Taylor Raddysh. Hagel has drawn comparisons to former Lightning player Blake Coleman. Not only can he score, but he was known as a tenacious forechecker. As demonstrated in Game 2, he does not have an issue with giving up his body to help the team.

Steven Stamkos

Generally, Stamkos would not be listed in any fashion as an unsung hero, but that is because his hero status is fashioned in accumulating points for the team. However, on Thursday night, his contribution to the team came in a different way. Stamkos took two trips to the training room after blocking shots. One came just before Hagel’s block, courtesy of an Aaron Ekblad slapshot. Stamkos then hobbled around the defensive zone, looking to help in any way he could, before skating off the ice but later returning.

Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev

These players get linked by the fact that they both took pucks to the face and left the game. Both players did come back as Sergachev returned for the start of the second and Cernak followed later in the period. This is the second game that Cernak has missed time for a blocked shot injury, as he missed the entire third period of Game 1 after blocking a Brandon Montour shot late in the second. He led the Lightning in blocked shots with four while Ryan McDonagh had three. McDonagh is no stranger to shot-blocking, as in Game 1 of the series, he became the NHL Playoff leader in blocked shots with 386.

Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning
Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Toughness and sacrifice are part of what led the Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cups. McDonagh is a player in that type of mold, a prime reason why the Lightning acquired the 14-year veteran in 2018. He embodies the identity of sacrifice and shot-blocking that has made them so successful in the past and will be needed to get the three-peat. Thursday night was a prime example of that as after taking several trips to the locker room, the players kept coming back.

The other added factor to blocking shots is the effect that it has on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Goalies generally appreciate and feed off their teammates who eat pucks in front of them, and Vasilevskiy’s play has reflected that. This effort is also an example of the team stepping up, as they are doing this without Brayden Point, who missed his second straight game after suffering an injury in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Champions sacrifice everything to win and the Lightning are doing just that in these playoffs.

They will need this continued effort for Game 3 and beyond. Even though they are down 2-0, the Panthers are not going to go away quietly. There is a reason why the Panthers are the highest-scoring team in the NHL’s salary-cap era. After a 115-point regular season, Jonathan Huberdeau has one goal and three assists in eight playoff games. Aleksandar Barkov has only two goals. Their power play is 0-for-25 in the playoffs. The Lightning have had a lot to do with that, filling lanes and blocking shots. This kind of play is a necessity for keeping a high-scoring team in check and winning this series and moving on to the Conference Final.

Related: 3 Lightning Players Who Need to Produce in the 2022 Playoffs

It is probably a good thing that the Lightning get an extra day off, giving this banged-up group a chance to heal up. Game 3 of the series is on Sunday afternoon, while Game 4 will be on Monday night. Both games will be played in Tampa.


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