It’s been preached all season. And when it comes to translating words into actions, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh is one of the first to step up to the ice.
Blocking shots isn’t fun. Most of the time, it’s pretty painful. A rubber disk flying at a high speed toward a vulnerable part of your body can, and often does, leave a sting.
Sacrificing your body like that isn’t easy, McDonagh has said. And he should know having led his team with 96 shot blocks during the regular season, 23 more than Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman.
But it is needed to win games. And it is partly how the Lightning beat the Islanders in Game 3 with a 2-1 win.
Tampa Bay, which leads the series 2-1, blocked 21 shots on Thursday night, the second-highest count of the postseason behind its series finale at Carolina (22) and just ahead of the series-opening game against the Hurricanes (18).
|Date||Round/Game/Opponent||Number of Shots Blocked by Lightning|
|May 16||Round 1, Game 1, at Florida||16|
|May 18||Round 1, Game 2, at Florida||15|
|May 20||Round 1, Game 3, vs. Florida||16|
|May 22||Round 1, Game 4, vs. Florida||12|
|May 24||Round 1, Game 5, at Florida||16|
|May 26||Round 1, Game 6, vs. Florida||13|
|May 30||Round 2, Game 1, at Carolina||18|
|June 1||Round 2, Game 2, at Carolina||16|
|June 3||Round 2, Game 3, vs. Carolina||10|
|June 5||Round 2, Game 4, vs. Carolina||10|
|June 8||Round 2, Game 5, at Carolina||22|
|June 13||Round 3, Game 1, vs. Islanders||8|
|June 15||Round 3, Game 2, vs. Islanders||8|
|June 17||Round 3, Game 3, at Islanders||21|
Through 14 playoff games, Hedman and McDonagh continue to lead the charge with a combined 57 blocked shots (29 of those belonging to Hedman).
In Thursday’s win, 11 different players blocked shots against the Islanders offense. Hedman led with four followed by forward Ondrej Palat, McDonagh and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who tallied three a piece.
“I think it’s just guys committing to our game plan and understanding the way to win on the road,” forward Blake Coleman said.
“We knew the Islanders were going to have their surges and you have to come up with some big blocks and guys were willing to sacrifice the body. Eleven different guys, over 20 shot blocks, that’s what you need in the playoffs and that’s how you win games, especially some gritty road games.”
And with great shot blockers on the team, Coleman said, it’s hard to miss those kinds of contributions
Early on in the second period, New York defenseman Andy Greene tried shooting through traffic toward Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. But Palat and McDonagh went down on their left knees simultaneously to block the puck’s movement.
The rubber caught the back of Palat’s thigh and bounced into the open ice, allowing McDonagh to snag it and move it out of the zone.
It was these kinds of plays that helped Tampa Bay hold onto a one-goal lead despite an aggressive road game atmosphere.
McDonagh said the team addressed its shortcomings after Sunday’s Game 1, knowing they lost because the group didn’t get enough chances by doing the little things, including shot blocking. In the first two games of the series, the Lightning combined for 16 blocked shots (eight per game).
“Ever since (Game 1), I feel like everybody’s willingness has gone up even more,” McDonagh said. “(The Islanders have) some big shots from the blue line there that can really hurt you and our forwards are being courageous and brave there in getting in lanes…”
And the momentum from said block shots carries over into the room, too.
“It’s a great sign for us and it just keeps our energy on the bench going and keeps those positive vibes going in our room,” McDonagh said. “When guys are mentioned in those blocks, it goes a long way for our group.”
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