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Lightning pay the price of blocking shots

Several key players have missed time due to injuries from the move, but it’s a part of the team’s winning mentality.
Devils center Yegor Sharangovich looks for room around Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh during a Nov. 20 game.
Devils center Yegor Sharangovich looks for room around Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh during a Nov. 20 game. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]
Published Jan. 11

TAMPA — Putting their bodies in front of speeding pucks is part of the job for Lightning players, who routinely close out victories by clogging shooting lanes with their bodies. And they pay the price for it.

If they’re lucky, they’ll just get bruised, but some blocked shots can lead to days or weeks on the shelf.

And such sacrifices are a big reason the Lightning have claimed back-to-back Stanley Cups. Last postseason, Barclay Goodrow’s blocked shot in the waning minutes of the Cup-clinching Game 5 win over the Canadiens was a lasting example of the way players put their bodies on the line to win.

“It’s such a selfless act and kind of a good-of-the-team act that I just am really impressed with this group,” said Lightning assistant Rob Zettler, who coaches the defense.

This year has been no different, but the Lightning have certainly paid more of a price with several players missing significant time over the first three months of the season.

Tampa Bay lost its top shot blocker in defenseman Ryan McDonagh during Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Flames. Trying to kill of a Calgary power play in the third period, McDonagh absorbed a one-timer off the stick of Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson from the left circle.

Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy work to keep the puck out of the net against the  Capitals on Nov. 1.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy work to keep the puck out of the net against the Capitals on Nov. 1. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

McDonagh took the puck off the lower part of his right leg as he turned away from the shot and fell to the ice, struggled to get to his feet and skated off hunched over while favoring his leg. McDonagh looked done for the game, but returned for three more shifts. He skated in practice the following day and participated in morning skate before Saturday’s game, but didn’t play in the 5-2 loss to Boston. He was listed as day-to-day entering Tuesday night’s game at Buffalo.

“We’ll do whatever we can to not get hit in bad spots,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who is second on the Lightning with 49 blocked shots. “It’s a bang-bang play and hockey is a fast sport. You give a lot of credit to guys out there blocking shots, but that’s part of who we are as a team.

“It takes a certain mentality to block shots, but it’s tough to protect every inch of your body,” Hedman added. “You never know where the puck is going to go. So you try to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net and sometimes it’s going to hit you in a bad spot and you know, you’re going to be out for a while. We’ve got a lot of padding and hopefully it hits that but ... it takes guts to step in front of a hard shot like that.”

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Defenseman Zach Bogosian missed 11 games after taking a blocked shot off his foot in the Lightning’s regular-season opener on Oct. 12 and is skating again while working his way back.

Defenseman Erik Cernak, the Lightning’s top right-shot defenseman who teams with McDonagh as the defensemen on the team’s top penalty-kill unit, missed eight games after Andrei Svechnikov’s slapshot hit him in the hand in a Nov. 8 game against Carolina. He returned for three games, then was sidelined again for 10 after blocking Bruins forward David Pastrnak’s shot with his foot on Dec. 4 in Boston.

Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) gains possession of the puck against the Wild in a Nov. 21 game.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) gains possession of the puck against the Wild in a Nov. 21 game. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“Blocking shots is a part of the game but obviously it’s tough when you see people go down and not being able to come back and play the next game, but it’s how it works,” Hedman said. “They come right back in and they’re not afraid to block shots.”

While on the penalty kill, Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli took a shot to the face off the stick of Jean-Gabriel Pageau in a Nov. 15 game against the Islanders, and the block broke his nose. But he played the next game three days later in Philadelphia while wearing a clear face shield.

“We just have some guys that just kind of give themselves up and put themselves on the line, their bodies on the line for the good of the team and for the win,” Zettler said. “You can just go down the list. ...

“A big reason why we won the Cup last year is because guys are willing to sacrifice like that. They know what it feels like and it’s a reason why when guys do it, everybody on the bench is standing up and when they come to the bench, guys are patting them on the back and patting them on the head.”

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