Ondrej Palat thrives when he faces the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The forward has scored in three consecutive games, all victories, against Boston in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round. He is one game shy of the longest playoff goal streak in Lightning history, which has been accomplished twice by Steven Stamkos (2015, 2018), and once by Vincent Lecavalier (2007) and Martin St. Louis (2003).
“He’s been outstanding for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s always the guy that’s talked about the least, which is probably unfair to him, but it’s probably just the way he likes it.”
That is changing after Palat scored two goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-1 victory in Game 4 on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena on Toronto. He has six points (four goals, two assists) in the series.
After the Lightning lost Game 1, Palat’s goal at 4:40 of overtime gave them a 4-3 victory in Game 2. He scored the opening goal in a 7-1 victory in Game 3.
Tampa Bay can advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the fourth time in six seasons with a victory in Game 5 on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN TVAS) in Toronto, the Eastern hub city.
Teams that have a 3-1 lead are 284-29 (90.7 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL series, including 6-0 this postseason.
This is not the first time Palat has been hard on the Bruins in the playoffs. In 2018, he scored two game-winning goals and had four points (three goals, one assist) to help the Lightning defeat them in five games in the second round.
Palat said he believes his performance this time mirrors the success the Lightning are experiencing by playing in a manner necessary to win against elite teams in the postseason.
“We’re playing with confidence,” Palat said. “We don’t cheat on the ice. We’re doing it the right way. We’re staying on the right side of the puck. We try to not turn the puck over, and I think all four lines are playing good hockey, and it’s huge.”
Palat has reached the 20-goal mark once in his eight NHL seasons — he scored 23 in 2013-14, his first full season — but he seems to become more dangerous in the postseason, where has 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 79 games. With 25 postseason goals, he is tied with Alex Killorn for the fourth-most in Tampa Bay history.
“He plays really hard minutes” Cooper said. “To play and do the things he does in the playoffs, it’s so hard to do over 82 games. By no means is this a short tournament. But you manage the guys a lot more in the playoffs just because you have that ability to. He can play anywhere in the lineup, top line to the fourth line.
“It’s his will. That’s what sets him apart.”
With Stamkos (lower body) unfit to play so far this postseason, Palat has been promoted to a line with center Brayden Point and right wing Nikita Kucherov. He has embraced the added responsibility.
“There’s a reason he plays with those guys,” Cooper said. “Because he can.”
Point said, “He’s a confident player. He’s super reliable for us. He’s always in the right spot, he’s got tons of skill, he sees the ice well, and he’s got a heck of a shot.
“To see a couple go in for him now is awesome, and hopefully he can keep that rolling.”
Palat did not start the postseason this way. He had two assists in the first eight games when the Lightning finished second in their three-game round-robin in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and then defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the first round.
“Players that shoot a lot have confidence, and that’s what he has,” said Cooper, who noted Palat has taken 13 shots in his past four games after taking 20 in his first eight games of the postseason. “We’ve put him in some positions to be able to take shots, but he’s also got two pretty good players that are giving him the puck. When you’ve got some guys that can get it to you, your job is to shoot it.”