Gutsy. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a gusty bunch, evident by their performance with their backs against the wall in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final Friday.
Down 3-1 in the series and with Lord Stanley’s Cup in the house, Ball Arena was ready. But Tampa Bay — and the hockey Gods — were not. The Lightning defeated the Avalanche, 3-2, to force a Game 6 back at home inside Amalie Arena on Sunday. The chase — the chase to do something done just once before is still alive — and that’s overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to have completed the comeback.
If Tampa Bay was going to give themselves a chance to be the second team to do it, they were going to need a big-time goal from a big-time player. And wouldn’t you know it, it was Ondrej Palat who once again, scored a big-time goal.
With the two teams knotted up at two and a third overtime of the series rapidly approaching, Palat found himself wide open in the slot and got just enough on the one-timer to get the puck past Darcy Kuemper at 13:38 into the third period.
Palat’s team-leading 11th goal of the playoffs was also his 12th career game-winning goal in the playoffs. That’s third among active players behind the Dallas Stars’ Joe Pavelski (14) and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin (13).
Palat’s game-winner came after a period of play that mirrored Game 4. The Lightning once again entered the final period of play with a 2-1 advantage, but surrendered an equalizer quickly. Puck luck is often a factor in teams that find success in the playoffs and it certainly was on Cale Makar’s goal to tie the game 2:31 into the third period.
Makar’s eighth of the playoffs ignited the Avalanche offense, which continued to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy with shots from every angle. The “Big Cat” was up to the challenge, finishing with 35 saves, a record for a Lightning goaltender in an elimination game.
The Lightning, who entered Game 5 just 1-of-15 on the power play, got off the schneid in this one, converting on a 4-on-3 advantage in the second period. The goal came off the stick of Nikita Kucherov, who blasted one by Kuemper to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.
Game 6 will serve as another elimination game and another opportunity for the Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup. Puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final is scheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.