Of all the star skaters on the Lightning roster, no one has been as clutch as Ondrej Palat.
The Czech winger answered the call again Friday night. His goal with 6:22 remaining in the third period proved to be the game-winner in the Lightning’s 3-2 victory over the Avalanche, which kept Tampa Bay alive in the series.
On the goal, Palat set up in the slot as Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev worked the puck on the outside. Eventually, Hedman held on just enough to find an opening to get it to Palat, who one-timed the pass just through the legs of Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
ONDREJ FREAKIN’ PALAT pic.twitter.com/wmdL8tirfg
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 25, 2022
“It seems like he likes big-time moments,” Kucherov said after the game. “He plays extremely well under pressure. You can see it in other playoffs and these playoffs. Very happy to have him on the team.”
Not only was it Palat’s team-leading 11th tally of the postseason, it was also his third game-winning goal, putting him in a five-way tie for the lead in these playoffs. Of those 11 goals, seven of them have come in the third period.
He was the hero in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers, scoring the go-ahead goal with 42 seconds remaining to give Tampa Bay a huge win. Palat did it again vs. the Rangers in Game 5 as he put the Lightning ahead with 1:50 remaining. Friday night, he kept Tampa Bay’s season alive.
This is nothing new for the 31-year-old pending free agent. He has come through in clutch moments time after time for Tampa Bay during its sustained playoff success the past few seasons.
The goal Friday was his 12th career playoff game-winner. He trails just Joe Pavelski and Evgeni Malkin for most game-winning goals among active players. No other player has hit double digits in that category since Palat made his playoff debut in 2014.
Game on the line? You probably want Ondrej Palat on your side.
Palat’s game-winning goal for the @TBLightning boosted his 2022 #StanleyCup Playoffs totals to 11-9—20, his first career 20-point postseason.#NHLStats: https://t.co/UfRNtg0u6i pic.twitter.com/dqZfFwnst2
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 25, 2022
Not bad for a seventh-round pick.
“All I can say about Palat is he plays with some of the best players in the world every year and he really doesn’t get talked about,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 5. “He’s always the third guy talked about on this line, but if you ask the other two players on his line, they would talk about him maybe the most.”
In 137 career playoff games, Palat has 93 points (48 goals, 45 assists). He’s second on the team during these playoffs with 20 points. He’s not the flashiest player, but without players like him who can hit, play on the penalty kill, block shots and, of course, score in key moments, the Lightning wouldn’t be going for their third consecutive Stanley Cup.
“He just does his job and he gets rewarded for it because of his effort,” Cooper said. “Everybody in that room knows how much Palat has brought to this organization. I feel like every year in the playoffs I have this same conversation about Ondrej Palat. It’s impressive.”
Palat has always elevated his game in the postseason, and the Lightning will certainly look to his line with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos to step up again in Game 6.