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Lightning sacrifice their bodies in Game 2 battle vs. Panthers

With two days between games, Tampa Bay will have time to rest before Game 3 Sunday in Tampa.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) heads to the bench after being injured in the third period of Game 2 of the second-round series against the Panthers Thursday in Sunrise.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) heads to the bench after being injured in the third period of Game 2 of the second-round series against the Panthers Thursday in Sunrise. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 20|Updated May 21

SUNRISE — Lightning forward Brandon Hagel laid it all on the ice when he knelt in front of a shot from the Panthers’ Brandon Montour at the blue line early in the third period of Game 2 on Thursday night.

With the score tied at 1, Hagel wasn’t taking any chances after Florida won a faceoff in the Tampa Bay end. He was slow to get up and hobbled to the bench, with a helpful push from defenseman Ryan McDonagh, before falling into the arms of assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier and equipment manager Colten Wilson.

But Hagel wasn’t the only one in the tunnel heading to the locker room. As he was helped down the hall, he passed captain Steven Stamkos, who had made his way down just over a minute before after blocking a shot.

Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91), right, gets up from the ice as Florida Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen (27) skates away during the second period of Game 2.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91), right, gets up from the ice as Florida Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen (27) skates away during the second period of Game 2. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Hagel, Stamkos, forward Corey Perry and defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev took turns walking down the hall to fix nicks and bumps endured throughout the game.

Their sacrifices weren’t in vain. The Lightning won 2-1 to take two-game lead in the second-round series before it moved to Tampa for Game 3 on Sunday. With two days off, there’s time to recover.

“That’s just the sacrifice at this time of the year,” Stamkos said. “Everyone’s doing it no matter the situation in the game. It’s contagious.”

The expectations have been set from the start. Cernak missed the third period of Game 1 after blocking a Montour shot late in the second. McDonagh became the NHL’s all-time shot blocker in the playoffs in that game.

The pain started even before Game 2. Perry fired a shot during warmups that ricocheted off the crossbar and hit him in the head, resulting in stitches near his right eye. Then Stamkos blocked a pair of shots — one with a shin and another with a hand — that sent him to the locker room.

Related: Lightning-Panthers Game 2 report card: Complete commitment

One by one, Lightning players went down the tunnel. And one by one, they returned.

Tampa Bay blocked 24 shots in the game, led by Cernak with a game-high four and McDonagh with three. Fourteen of its 18 skaters contributed with at least one blocked shot.

“Last year was a great example,” assistant coach Rob Zettler said. “You go through some of our games, our clinching games, and you literally saw guys blocking shots left and right.

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“You see guys get excited for a teammate that does that, and they know that next time they’re going to have to do the same thing.”

Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) holds his face at the bench after being hit by a puck as Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) skates away during the first period of Game 2.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) holds his face at the bench after being hit by a puck as Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) skates away during the first period of Game 2. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

That’s why it was easy for Hagel — who joined the Lightning just before the trade deadline — to make the choice to turn his body and put himself in a vulnerable position in front of Montour. Returning back up the hall from the locker room to the bench was an even easier decision.

“It’s the playoffs, I guess, to say the least,” he said. “You want to go out there and win. Yeah, it probably doesn’t feel good, but you have a couple of days to rest and go from there.”

Related: ‘I’ve only watched this 8679 times’: Twitter reacts to Lightning’s Game 2 win

Sacrificing your body for the good of the team becomes contagious in such moments, Hagel said, especially in a hostile road environment.

“I mean, obviously, the crowd’s on the other side, but to gain energy on the bench, get guys on their feet, get guys picking guys up, it feels good,” Hagel said. “It almost feels better than scoring a goal.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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