“That’s a big deal. When you see a guy of Ryan’s stature doing it, who has been in the league a long time and just continues to do it, why wouldn’t you?”
Case in point:
Holding a 1-0 lead midway through the second period Tuesday, the Panthers went on a power play. Fifteen seconds later, Jonathan Huberdeau launched Florida’s first shot and it was blocked by Anthony Cirelli. Less than a minute later, Huberdeau had another shot blocked by Sergachev.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped the next three shots, but Florida’s best chance at breaking the game open came with 6:20 remaining in the period. The Lightning were overloaded on the left side of the net when a pass was sent across the ice to Brandon Montour, who was all alone in the faceoff circle.
While Vasilevskiy scrambled vainly to get in position, Cernak skated between Montour and the net and then sprawled on the ice just as the slap shot arrived to hit him — apparently — in the back.
Cernak lay facedown on the ice for several seconds before skating toward the bench and disappearing into the locker room for the rest of the game. (He skated during Wednesday’s practice and is expected to be available for Game 2 on Thursday night.)
A moment like this is often noted by broadcasters but is forgotten by the time a box score is published. For defensemen, however, that type of block is every bit as important as a game-tying score.
And less than three minutes after the Cernak block, the Lightning tied the game when Nikita Kucherov fed Corey Perry on a rush.
“That was a huge, huge turning point, getting through that (penalty) kill without getting hurt on the scoreboard,” McDonagh said. “And (Cernak) felt that one, for sure. He’s one of the best at that, when it comes to commitment and willingness and technique.”
Cernak’s sacrifice was, in a way, a compliment to McDonagh’s influence. Cernak made his NHL debut three months before McDonagh was acquired in a trade, and they spent several years together as linemates. Cernak averaged 0.69 blocks per 60 minutes in his first NHL postseason in 2019 but has averaged 4.8 ever since.
“Does it get contagious? It does. Because, you know, God forbid you watch a guy do it and then you have a chance to do it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Guys get in line in that regard. And that’s been the history with us for a number of years now. It’s kind of built into our culture.
“Yeah, it’s tough to come to the bench if you passed up (a chance) to do that.”
Staff writer Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this report.©2022 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.