Ondrej Palat has found his scoring touch.
It took the Lightning wing six games to score his first playoff goal this year. Since then, he has four in the last three games, including two in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Bruins in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Palat scored the first two goals to help give the Lightning a 3-1 series lead. They can close out the series Monday.
Palat also scored the goal that may have been the series’ turning point. In Game 2, the Lightning went into overtime facing the prospect of starting the series down two games. Palat’s overtime goal gave them the first of what is now three consecutive wins.
Palat is showing more confidence in his shot. He’s quicker to settle to the puck and shoot, like in his first goal Saturday.
“(Palat) is a confident player,” said center Brayden Point, who assisted on Palat’s first goal. “He’s superreliable for us. He’s always in the right spot, he’s got tons of skill, he sees the ice well, and he’s got a heck of a shot. To see a couple go in for him now is awesome, and hopefully he can keep that rolling.”
Palat got the Lightning started midway through the first period. He finished a nice play by Point to freeze Bruins defenseman Torey Krug just off the post. Point set up Palat in the slot, and Palat’s shot landed just below the crossbar.
Then in the second period, Palat put a one-timer set up by center Anthony Cirelli over goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s glove.
“We’ve put him in some positions to be able to take shots,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But he’s also got two pretty good players (Point and Nikita Kucherov) that are giving him the puck. You got some guys that can get it to you, and your job is to shoot it. There’s a reason he plays with those guys. It’s because he can.”
Cooper praised Palat as one of the poster children for the “200-foot game.” In addition to offensive play, Palat is hard on the puck and responsible defensively. That’s why Palat is on a line with Point and Kucherov. He adds that element to their highly skilled game.
“He’s the guy that goes into the corners and gets the puck for us,” Kucherov said previously. “He works in front, and that’s huge for us because none of us plays in the middle like that. We play to the outside and create. He’s the guy that competes so hard and gets the puck for us.”
Scoring is not a staple of Palat’s game. He has surpassed 20 goals in a season only once in his seven full seasons in the league, though he had a good shot at doing it again this season before it was shortened by the coronavirus.
Palat started the season strong. He stood out in training camp in September, looking trimmer, faster and more confident. Cooper said speed and trimming some bulky muscle were things Palat could have improved on.
He matched the previous season’s eight goals in the first 21 games. Palat didn’t maintain that scoring pace, but he did have 17 goals in 69 games for the season. His average is about 16.
Cooper calls Palat someone “we’ve never really had to worry about.” But when a forward with an all-around responsible game — someone who can be trusted in the defensive end even if that isn’t his main focus — gets better offensively, that’s always good.
“He’s been outstanding for us,” Cooper said previously. “He’s probably the guy that gets talked about the least on that line, but you can’t say he’s any less important.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Point), 8:59. Penalties—Carlo, Bos (Slashing), 11:44; Ritchie, Bos (Roughing), 17:29; Cernak, TB (Roughing), 20:00.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Palat 4 (Kucherov, Cirelli), 12:29. 3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 4 (Kucherov, Johnson), 18:04 (pp). Penalties—Clifton, Bos (Cross Checking), 5:46; Ritchie, Bos (Boarding), 13:32; Bogosian, TB (Holding), 19:03.
Third Period—4, Boston, DeBrusk 4 (Grzelcyk, Coyle), 7:04 (pp). Penalties—Coleman, TB (Hooking), 0:54; Goodrow, TB (Fighting), 4:01; Ritchie, Bos (Fighting), 4:01; Schenn, TB (Hooking), 5:05.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-12-6_26. Boston 9-10-11_30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; Boston 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 9-3-0 (30 shots-29 saves). Boston, Halak 4-3-1 (26-23). T—2:31. Referees—Francis Charron, Chris Lee. Linesmen—Greg Devorski, Matt MacPherson.