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Lightning's Mikhail Sergachev shines on both sides of the ice in Game 5 win

Eduardo A. Encina, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Hockey

DENVER — The Lightning have found their way back into the Stanley Cup Final by taking away space from the Avalanche’s top offensive players.

Early in its Game 5 win at Colorado, the way defenseman Mikhail Sergachev collapsed on star center Nathan MacKinnon in open ice set the tone for Tampa Bay.

“When I sit on the bench and somebody makes a hit like that, it gets me going,” Sergachev said. “So that’s all I can say. I hope it got our team going, but our team was playing really well before my hit. So it’s just a part of the game.”

The Lightning had just gone up on Jan Rutta’s goal late in the first period when MacKinnon was fed the puck while crossing the blue line into the Tampa Bay zone with no one between him and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Sergachev, however, managed to close in on MacKinnon from his left, unloading a check that took out Colorado’s best player and prevented a breakaway.

“I think just a crucial play more so than what it meant as far as the atmosphere,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “You’re talking about one of their top players coming down on a breakaway, and Sergy shows his skating ability and his ability to close and take away a scoring chance. A huge turning point, for sure.”

 

Sergachev also assisted on two goals, including Ondrej Palat’s winner with just over six minutes remaining. It was Sergachev who patiently quarterbacked the Lightning offense from the point, resisting taking a shot from the outside and waiting to get the puck to Victor Hedman down low to set up Palat in the slot.

“You don’t want to waste an opportunity by shooting it in his shinpads” Sergachev said. “I could’ve shot it right away, but I thought it was a long way for a puck to go and I saw Vic on my left. So, when you see your best defenseman on the ice on the left, wide open, you just give it to him.”

Two days earlier, when top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak left after blocking a MacKinnon shot and didn’t return, Sergachev absorbed most of the minutes as the Lightning finished the game with five defensemen. He finished with a season-high 32:50 of ice time while also blocking a team-high seven shots.

“What is he, 23 years old, and he’s got two Stanley Cups and the amount of playoff games he’s played at such a young age,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And to perform the way he has, he’s just wise beyond his years.”

©2022 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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