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Sergachev, Palat combine for late goal to give Lightning 3-2 series lead

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

It had been a long time coming for Mikhail Sergachev. The 23-year-old defenseman hadn’t tallied a playoff goal since Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, a span of 39 postseason games. With the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a high of winning Games 3 and 4 on home ice over the New York Rangers, including a dominant showing in Game 4, they traveled to Madison Square Garden looking for a much-needed victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Thanks to timely goals by Sergachev and Ondrej Palat, they’re now one win away from their third consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Sergachev tied the game with his first playoff goal since the 2020 bubble playoffs, and Palat scored his fourth goal of the series, which also turned out to be his second game-winner of the series as well. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 24 of 25 shots to help the Lightning outlast the Rangers 3-1, ending New York’s eight-game winning streak on home ice and putting the Lightning up 3-2 in the series.

On the other end, Igor Shesterkin took the loss for the Rangers, stopping 24 of 26 shots faced, which didn’t include a late empty-netter by Brandon Hagel. Ryan Lindgren tallied the lone Rangers goal in a game that had plenty of ebbs and flows while also being a tight-checking affair that featured some high-quality chances on both sides.

Few whistles, fast pace, and a couple of posts despite being outshot

The opening 20 minutes saw plenty of fast-paced action with few stoppages, no penalties, a few swallowed whistles by the officials both ways, and a couple of golden opportunities for each team. About 90 seconds in, Nikita Kucherov ripped a slap shot off the post. A few minutes later, Zach Bogosian’s 2-on-1 pass got broken up thanks to a great defensive play by K’Andre Miller. For a time, the action looked like a chess match with neither team wanting to make a mistake. Filip Chytil nearly converted a slick pass from the side of the crease, but his deflection barely went wide.

The Rangers began controlling possession, but the Lightning held their ground. Nick Paul fired a shot off the post just over halfway through the period, the second time the Bolts hit iron in the period. Although New York finished the period with an 8-3 shot advantage, their two best chances came on back-to-back shots by Artemi and Chytil in close. However, Vasilevskiy came up with a pair of stellar saves. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning had more scoring chances than they did shots on goal through 20 minutes.

The Rangers break the stalemate from an unlikely source

The Lightning began putting more pucks on net and creating more opportunities, but the game was still very tight-checking despite some good chances. Palat nearly scored on back-to-back shots off a rush, but Shesterkin turned both of them aside. Palat would draw the first power play of the night at the 3:05 mark, but the Bolts couldn’t taken advantage, only mustering two shots on the man-advantage.

Mika Zibanejad nearly put the Rangers up, but his rocket of a shot barely missed the net. Alex Killorn nearly got sprung for a breakaway, but the puck skipped just ahead of him, allowing Shesterkin to play it up the ice. He caught Tampa Bay in a line change, forcing them into a penalty for too many men on the ice. New York only created one shot on the ensuing power play and surrendered a great shorthanded chance by Anthony Cirelli.

The Rangers finally broke through at the 10:29 mark when Lindgren pounced on a turnover in the Lightning’s zone. Bogosian rimmed the puck around the boards expecting support along the wing. Unfortunately for him, Palat got caught up the ice, unable to receive the pass. Lindgren took the puck, skated towards the far wall, and let a simple shot go that caught Vasilevskiy by surprise for his second goal of the postseason and a 1-0 New York lead.

Sergachev secures the equalizer late in the period

The Lightning refused to be fazed by Lindgren’s goal, eventually tying the game 1-1 with 2:26 remaining in the period thanks to Sergachev’s first of the playoffs. With a maze of players between him and Shesterkin, Sergachev lifted a shot on net that found its way into the back of the net. The play was remarkably similar to the one that led to Lindgren’s goal. Kevin Rooney also tried rimming the puck around the boards and out of the zone, but Sergachev kept it in before knotting the game up. The shots were 16-16 through 40 minutes, including 13-8 in favor of the Lightning in the second period. This game also marked the first time in the series in which the score was tied after 40 minutes.

Big chances, big shot blocks, plenty of bruises

Early in the third period, both teams felt the effects of blocking shots. Bogosian and Lindgren each appeared shaken up after blocking shots. Despite that, each of them stayed in the game. The Lightning saw Ryan McDonagh exit the game after taking one shift in the final period and he didn’t return until there was 4:45 left in regulation. The intensity of the game began to ramp up, with the Lightning controlling much of the early action. Cirelli and his line with Killorn and Hagel on the wings kept the Rangers bottled up in their own zone, making it look like the Bolts were on a power play during one particular shift.

With just under 10 minutes to go, New York earned their first Grade A chances of the period when Adam Fox walked around Erik Cernak and got denied by Vasilevskiy. However, that wasn’t even his best save of the sequence, as Lindgren came down below the goal line and jumped on the puck. He tried to tuck it past Vasilevskiy, but the Lightning netminder kicked out his left pad, keeping the puck out. The Rangers nearly took the lead a short time later, but Ryan Strome missed an open net following a great feed from Andrew Copp.

All hail Mikhail (and Palat)

With 1:50 left, following some crisp puck movement by the Bolts in the offensive zone, Sergachev found himself with the puck on his stick at the point again. He let another shot loose that got through traffic, deflecting off of Palat and beating Shesterkin, putting the Lightning up 2-1. Following a last-ditch effort by the Rangers in pulling Shesterkin for an extra attacker, Tampa Bay took advantage as Hagel notched an empty-net goal with 58.8 seconds remaining to make it 3-1.

After the final whistle, there was a scrum involving everyone on the ice, including a scrap between Steven Stamkos and Alexis Lafreniere in which the Lightning captain appeared to get the better of his younger Rangers counterpart.

Game 6 of this series takes place on Saturday at 8 pm EST on ESPN.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Mikhail Sergachev – Scored his first playoff goal since 2020 and assisted on the game-winner.

2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 24 of 25 shots, including a few very timely saves when needed.

3rd Star: Ondrej Palat – Notched his fourth goal of the series and his second game-winner.

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