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'He Just Finds a Way': Palat's Impact Not Lost on Lightning

Ondrej Palat continues to roll as one of the most clutch playoff performers, scoring his 12th game-winning post-season goal on Friday. When it comes to playoff warriors, his teammates point to him as one of the best.
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DENVER - It was 2:00 AM when around 80 friends and family gathered in Ondrej Palat's hometown in Czechia to watch him score one of the greatest goals of his life.

That's becoming somewhat of a tradition for a seventh-round pick chasing a third consecutive Stanley Cup. With about five minutes to go in regulation, Palat scored to win the game off of a one-timer, giving the Tampa Bay Lightning another shot at staying alive.

“I feel like every post-season, I have this same conversation about Ondrej Palat," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said about Palat having an impact on the series.

And for good reason. The 2011 seventh-round pick is up to 21 points in 23 playoff games this year, a huge blessing with Brayden Point out for most of the run. Two years ago, he had 11 goals and 18 points in 25 games to make up for the loss of Steven Stamkos. 

It's like he comes alive for the playoffs -- after recording a respectable 18 goals and 49 points during the regular season, he has continuously found himself in the forefront of Tampa's scoring conversation, sitting second behind Nikita Kucherov for the Tampa lead.

Palat was drafted in the same draft as Kucherov was in 2011. The difference?  Palat was taken 208th overall, 150 picks behind the Russian scoring star and just four picks before the final pick that year. So, to a point, Palat had to find ways to prove himself, and as he found a comfort level with Cooper coaching in the AHL, everything just started to fall in place. 

Very few seventh-round picks become Stanley Cups winners. Even fewer become key parts of a multi-time champion.

"He just does his job and he gets rewarded for it because of his effort," Cooper said after Game 5. "Everybody in that room knows how much Palat has brought to this organization. I feel like every year in the playoffs I have this same conversation about Ondrej Palat. It's impressive."

You can call Palat a complementary player -- never the best player on his line, but always effective -- and he fits the bill better than almost anyone else. And that's why Cooper continues to rely on him to play key minutes for this team, and why believes Palat deserves a ton of respect for being such a valuable player year in and year out.

"He plays with some of the best players in the world every year and he really doesn't get talked about," Cooper said. "He's always the third guy talked about on this line, but if you ask the other two players on his line, they would talk about him maybe the most."

With Palat's 12th winning goal, he sits just two goals behind Dallas' Joe Pavelski (14) for playoff game-winning goals among active players. Evgeni Malkin is second with 13.

“It’s pretty remarkable," captain Steven Stamkos said about the stat. "We always joke with Pally that he just finds a way. Sneaky P found a way to put one in there. It was obviously another huge goal for us.”

Patrick Maroon had some of the best praise for Palat, though.

"He's a gamer," Maroon said. "He plays the right way every night. He gets to those dirty areas, and he gets rewarded. He's a star in this league. He's an elite player in this league. He shows up in big-time moments."

The goal meant a lot for Palat and the Bolts, but, like all hockey players, they quickly shifted the narrative to Game 6 and try and force a do-or-die return to Denver next week. The job is far from done, and Palat and Co. know that. But they life to see another day, and Palat deserves some love for that.

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