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‘Ultimate compliment’: Lightning need Ondrej Palat on their top line

For a guy who doesn’t get a lot of accolades, Palat is passing some elite players in Lightning playoff history.
Ondrej Palat scores against Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders during the second period of Game 4.
Ondrej Palat scores against Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders during the second period of Game 4. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 14, 2020

EDMONTON — Ondrej Palat isn’t the first player you think of when it comes to clutch playoff performer for the Lightning — but his team has sure seen it over his eight-year career.

Palat scored his eighth goal of the playoffs and third game-winning goal. His goal in Game 3 and his second-period goal that gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon was his 29th playoff goal of his career, surpassing Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos for fifth all-time in Lightning history.

For a guy who doesn’t get a lot of accolades, Palat is passing some elite company in Lightning playoff history.

“I’m just trying to play the same way (every shift),” said Palat. “A hard game, 200-feet and just play hard.”

The 29-year-old, who was a seventh-round selection and fourth-to-last player selected in the 2011 draft also made a beautiful pass to Brayden Point for Tampa’s insurance marker for his 13th point of the playoffs.

“I’ve had the pleasure to coach Palat. ... I guess I’ve been his only coach as a pro, and that third goal was everything that Ondrej Palat is about,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “He stays above pucks. Where a lot of guys may have skated away, he just does all those things that go unnoticed. But lines don’t survive without him.”

Palat will likely set a new career-high in goals in a single postseason as he’s matched his career high of eight, set in the 2015 playoffs, when Tampa went all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

So much of the talk often surrounds his linemates, Nikita Kucherov and Point, but Palat has been just as dynamic in these playoffs.

He scored the OT winner in Game 2 of the series against Boston, he major turning point in the series.

He scored five goals against the Bruins and has scored three in four games against the Islanders.

For a player that’s scored 20 goals in a regular season just once over his seven years in the league, he sure knows how to elevate his goal-scoring to another level come playoff time.

Palat isn’t a player that gets noticed a lot of times on the ice for his flash or dazzling moves with the puck. He plays a simple game and does so many good things away from the puck, it’s what’s allowed him to be a regular top-six forward among stars like Kucherov, Point, Stamkos and Martin St.Louis over the years.

He’s a perfect fit to play among the Lightning’s elite skill in the lineup, and he’s showing that he can be counted on and be considered one of Tampa’s big guns.

After falling behind 1-0 on a goal by Isles forward Brock Nelson, the Lightning struck twice in 12 seconds and took the lead just 27 seconds after Nelson’s goal.

Palat streaked into the zone and was able to get a quick shot off a nice backhand pass from Kucherov to beat Varlamov.

Palat’s goals may not always be highlight-reel material, but he makes goaltenders pay with his quick, lethal shot.

“I’ve watched it every year, and he just doesn’t get the attention that some of the other guys he plays with get, because of the caliber of players they are, but you need a Palat on your line,” said Cooper. “I’m sure Kuch and Point would be the first ones to tell you we need a Palat on our line, and I think that’s your ultimate compliment as a player.”