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Breakdown of a Game Winning Goal

As far as last minute goals, this was a doozy. Even in a preseason game a goal with a couple ticks left on the clock gets you pumped up. When it happened in the Round 2 playoff series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, it was unbelievable. We all saw the Ross Colton game winning goal in Game 2 Thursday night. Most of us have seen the replays a gazillion times since. Besides being memorable, this goal could very well be the dagger in the Panthers chances in this series. 

Game 2 in this second round series was headed for overtime. Florida tied the game at one with a little under two minutes left in the second period. Almost the entire third period it remained 1-1. Almost. With every passing minute, the intensity level increased. As the game clock dwindled to 15 seconds, players, coaches and fans were all gearing for overtime. Then we witnessed the incredible. Here is a breakdown of that game winning goal by Colton. 

0:15 To Go

I’ll admit, I’m one of those that has seen the replay more than my share. I will never tire of seeing this goal. Jan Rutta is at the center line bringing the puck into Florida’s zone. Once in, Rutta dropped a pass to Nikita Kucherov who was immediately checked by Noel Acciari of the Panthers. This forced Kucherov to attempt to slide the puck down the wall which was promptly intercepted by Florida’s Gustav Forsling. 

On the Lightning radio broadcast, Phil Esposito is heard saying “sheesh” when Kucherov’s slide pass was cut off by Forsling. Rutta began forechecking Forsling and knocked the puck loose back to Kucherov who flipped it towards the blue line. At this point there are 7.4 seconds remaining in regulation. It’s at this point that everyone watching this nail-biter was confident we were going to overtime. In a great keep, Ondrej Palat not only kept the puck in the zone but fired a nice wraparound along the wall. Kucherov was already heading towards the net and saw the nicely executed pass by Palat. 

Is Hockey Hard? 

One of my favorite hockey quotes is: Is hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while 5 other guys use clubs to try and kill us. Oh yeah, did I mention that this whole time we’re standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. Next question.

That was the response of Hall of Fame player Brendan Shanahan. Not only is this statement true but it only gets harder in the playoffs. We can all agree on this premise that hockey is hard and playoff hockey is really flipping hard. Every once in a while you witness a player who plays this game at this level with such ease that it defies logic and credulity. Kucherov is one such player. I say that because like a lot of you Lightning fans, I have seen him play all 562 regular season and 122 playoff NHL games he has played. We all know what he has done. Yet at this moment, we were all about to see some real magic. After Game 2, Colton continually said Kucherov plays like he has eyes in the back of his head.  

As Palat’s dump pass was headed along the wall behind the Panther’s net, Kucherov was gliding in to meet the puck. Here is where the goal was made. 

The Pass to the Game Winning Goal

Right before he got the puck on his stick, Kucherov glanced over his left shoulder. It occurs with about 5.5 seconds remaining and about one second before he touches the puck. Forsling was on Kucherov’s tail as the clock continued to wind down. In a surprise move, Florida’s other defenseman, Mackenzie Weegar skated behind the net on the opposite side of where Kucherov and Forsling were skating. This move by Weegar left a trailing Colton all by himself in the low slot. Kucherov all but stopped to continue to draw in Weegar who must have thought the final horn was going to go off any millisecond now. As Weegar lined up his hit, Kucherov deftly back-handed a pass to Colton who wasted no time in lifting the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky. 

Looking up at the clock initially, we thought the goal was scored with 0.9 seconds left. Replays showed the goal was scored with 3.8 seconds making the goal no less miraculous. I know that Weegar is getting the initial blame but in my mind he was following the game plan we saw all game. Florida came out hitting from the moment they stepped on the ice. Kucherov was one of their main targets. Weegar headed to Kucherov to lay a hit on him. He may have thought there wasn’t enough time for Kucherov to do anything except to accept the incoming hit. But Weegar hasn’t seen all the games Kucherov has played and what he has done in the past. 

What It Means

As incredible as this goal was, the implications went further for both teams in this series. For the Lightning, they had to go to Sunrise for the first two games and would have been thrilled to split the first two games in their barn. This goal brings them home up two games to none. They have to win two of the remaining five games (if necessary) with three of those games in the friendly confines of Amalie Arena. 

For the Panthers, this goal was definitely a nail in their potential playoff coffin. Would it so affect this team that they will phone in their effort the rest of this series? This is the number one team in the league. They earned the President’s Trophy with more points in the regular season than any other team. Here’s the difference, look at those last 15 seconds when you get a chance. The more I watched it, the more a realization set in. During a tie game in the playoffs, I saw one team do everything they could to get a scoring chance in regulation. This visiting team was playing through the final horn. The home team was trying to run out the clock, content with going to overtime.  One team was playing championship hockey and the other was playing rivalry hockey. This is the playoffs boys and the team that played championship hockey in Game 2 just went up two games to none in the best of seven series. 

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