TAMPA — It’s not often that Erik Cernak gets to be on the right side of the puck when he’s on the ice.
As a Lightning defenseman, he is tasked with blocking shots in front of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and putting up critical minutes on the penalty kill.
On Sunday, however, he found himself in a different column on the stat sheet by scoring what ended up being the winning goal in the Lightning’s 5-1 Game 3 win over the Panthers in their second-round playoff series at Amalie Arena.
“It’s obviously amazing,” Cernak said. “I do not really score goals, so this one’s special for me.”
On the second-period play, Lightning forward Ondrej Palat grabbed the puck out of the corner along the boards and sent it back to forward Ross Colton. Colton then tap-passed it back to Cernak on the left side, who fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle for a 2-1 lead.
Last year, Cernak scored his first career postseason goal in the Stanley Cup final opener against Montreal.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has skated in a pairing with Cernak for a good portion of Cernak’s four seasons with the Lightning, was happy to see him get rewarded Sunday.
“He’s just so consistent,” McDonagh said. “You can just count on him to bring it every night, and he maybe doesn’t get rewarded on the score sheet as much, but all of his intentions are about helping the team win in any fashion.”
Cernak is the 14th Lightning player to score in the playoffs this year.
“That’s playoffs right?” captain Steven Stamkos said of Cernak’s goal. “We talked about it so far. You never know whose night it’s going to be at this time of the year. That’s why it’s so exciting. Our (defense) plays unbelievable hockey, so it’s nice to see those guys get rewarded, too.”
Corey Perry nets 50th career postseason goal
Forward Corey Perry, 37, has a knack for scoring this postseason. His five goals tie Colton for most on the Lightning through 10 games. Perry’s goal Sunday was the 50th playoff score of his 17-year career.
On the first-period play, McDonagh and forward Nikita Kucherov exchanged a pair of passes before McDonagh took a shot from the blue line. Perry, who was standing in front of Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, deflected McDonagh’s shot into an open net 13:21 in for a 1-0 lead.
Perry has scored in every game of the series.
“That’s why Corey Perry’s Corey Perry,” coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s why teams want him. That’s why he’s sought after. But what’s impressive is he’s been able to continue to prolong his career and play at such a high level in what’s becoming a young man’s league.”
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McDonagh’s day was made more special when his 5-year-old daughter, Falan, skated for the Lightning’s pregame ceremony as the Thunderstruck Skater.
Wearing her father’s No. 27, Falan made her way around the ice leading the hype to the tune of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
“When I heard she was going to be the ThunderGal (on Sunday), I was pretty excited,” McDonagh said during the postgame news conference with Falan on his lap. “We’ve been practicing at home, and she came about 2½ hours early, too, so had a little rehearsal on the ice. From all reports, she did a great job, and (it) definitely was a proud moment for me and a little bit of a good luck charm for us.”
After the pregame hype ended, Falan stayed on the ice with her father for the national anthem. The pair stood side by side at the blue line before parting ways with a fist bump.
“I was trying to soak it all in, for sure,” McDonagh said. “It just brought a big, big smile to my face when you look down and see her next to me there.”
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