SUNRISE — Lightning forward Brandon Hagel put it all on the ice when he knelt before a shot from Florida’s Brandon Montour at the blue line early in the third period on Tuesday night.
Tied 1-1, Hagel took no risks. He blocked the shot after the Panthers won the faceoff and was slow to get up. When he finally got back on his skates, he hobbled to the bench thanks to a helpful push from Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Immediately, Hagel fell into the arms of assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier and equipment manager Colten Wilson.
But Hagel wasn’t the only one in the tunnel. As he was being helped down the hall, he ran into captain Steven Stamkos, who had made his way just over a minute before after blocking a shot.
The Lightning Tunnel was the NHL’s version of a fashion show – when one player went down, another went up. Corey Perry, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, Stamkos and Hagel all took turns walking the padded black mat to repair nicks and dents sustained throughout the game.
Their sacrifices weren’t in vain, as the team earned a 2-1 win over the Panthers, cementing a 2-0 series lead going into Sunday’s Game 3 at Amalie Arena. Now, with two days off, it’s time to recover.
“It’s just the sacrifice at this time of year,” Stamkos said. “Everyone does it, no matter what the situation in the game is. It’s contagious.
Expectations were set from the start. In Game 1, Cernak missed the entire third period after blocking a Montour shot late in the second. That same night, McDonagh became the NHL’s all-time shot blocker in the playoffs.
On Thursday, Perry fired a shot during warm-ups 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 to the shin and another to the hand – which carried him back to the locker room.
One by one, they descended the tunnel. And one by one they came back.
The Lightning recorded 24 blocked shots against Florida in Thursday’s win, Cernak blocking four and McDonagh blocking three. At the end of regulation, 14 of Tampa Bay’s 18 skaters contributed to the stat sheet by blocking at least one shot.
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“Last year was a great example,” said assistant coach Rob Zettler. “You go through some of our plays, our clinch plays, and you’ve literally seen guys block shots left and right.
“You see guys excited for a teammate who does that and they know next time they have to do the same thing.”
That’s why it was easy for Hagel — who joined the Lightning in late March just before the trade deadline — to make this choice to transform his body in the third period, taking a vulnerable position in front of Montour. And for Hagel, it was even easier to go up the tunnel to the bench.
“It’s the playoffs, I guess, to say the least,” Hagel said. “You want to go out there and win. Yeah, it probably doesn’t feel good, but you have a few days to rest and go from there.
It’s an infectious attitude to show up in times like this, Hagel said, especially on the road.
“I mean, obviously the crowd is on the other side, but to gain energy off the bench, get guys on their feet, get guys to pick guys up, it feels good,” Hagel said. . “It’s almost better than scoring a goal.”
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