NEW YORK — The Lightning were without one of their top defensemen, Ryan McDonagh, for nearly 13 minutes of the third period of Game 5 Thursday after he disappeared down the tunnel with an injury.
As equally as impressive as it was to play most of the period with just five defensemen was McDonagh’s return in the final five minutes of regulation, during which the Lightning scored the winning goal.
McDonagh’s exit left the Lightning with just two left-shot defensemen — Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev.
“They were pushing hard, and when you play two lefties it’s hard,” Sergachev said. “Pretty much you can’t really go too hard because you’ve got to let your body rest, so it’s tough. Mac is obviously is huge. And when he came back, he gave us a huge boost of energy. And I feel like he was one of the reasons we won the game.”
McDonagh returned with 4:45 left to play four shifts down the stretch.
“I think Ranger fans have been extremely fortunate to be able to watch Ryan McDonagh play for a number of years, and now we’re getting that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the player who captained New York before the 2018 trade that brought him to Tampa Bay.
“He’s a warrior. So whatever he had to leave for, he didn’t want to leave, that wasn’t by choice. But it’s by a choice that he came back, and it’s that warrior mentality he has, and it’s probably not been a secret since he’s been on our team how well we’ve had some good runs here in the playoffs.”
Scrum at the buzzer
After time expired, a fracas broke out between the teams that had Steven Stamkos exchanging punches with Alexis Lafreniere.
It appeared the chaos started when Nikita Kucherov shot a puck off Rangers defenseman Adam Fox at the final buzzer and the two exchanged cross checks. Soon, every player on the ice was part of a scrum in the corner. Stamkos and Lafreniere drifted behind the net, and soon a fight between the two materialized.
On the official play-by-play, both Stamkos and Lafreniere received five-minute fighting majors, Erik Cernak and Ryan Strome received roughing penalties, and Fox received a slashing call.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (60-34) became the 17th goaltender in Stanley Cup playoff history to record 60 career victories and only the second active netminder after Marc-Andre Fleury (92-73). ... Ondrej Palat’s 11 career game-winning postseason goals are the third-most among active NHL players, trailing only Joe Pavelski (14) and Evgeni Malkin (13).
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