NEW YORK – To get an idea of just how bad the Tampa Bay Lightning were in their 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, look no further than coach Rick Tocchet's assessment of his team after the game.
"They out-hit us, they outplayed us, they out-everythinged us, they outcoached us," he said. "Their leaders out-did our leaders, their grinders out-did our grinders. Our goaltender got out-goaltended.
"The only thing good was the bus was on time for this game. The bus driver was the best thing we had."
If a coach cites the bus driver as his best performer, ironically, that team probably isn't going places.
The Rangers dominated the Lightning from start to finish, with eight Rangers scoring the team's eight goals. Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, Chris Drury, Dan Girardi, Enver Lisin, Marc Staal Aaron Voros and Christopher Higgins did the damage for a team that has scored 14 goals in its last two games after scoring only five in the four games before this offensive barrage.
Marian Gaborik had the second four-assist game of his nine-year career. Only two Rangers skaters -- Michal Rozsival and Artem Anisimov – failed to register a point in the victory.
"It feels great scoring eight goals, especially after the big win we had here the previous game," said Prospal, who was referring to the Rangers' 6-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. "They played well (Monday) night against Carolina. They have a dangerous hockey team, they have a lot offense. So it feels great that we were able to, right from the start, shut them down and run up the score."
On top of scoring his first goal of the season, Voros also picked up two fighting majors, the first of which occurring only 10 seconds into the contest. It was a carryover from the Montreal game, when a fight-filled, physical second period gave New York the boost it needed to run the Canadiens out of the building.
"When you see a guy like that willing to do that right off the hop, 10 seconds in, I think it gets the guys' attention," Drury said of Voros, who has been a healthy scratch more often than not this season.
"We had a pretty emotional ride as we built in the last game against Montreal," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It's not about brawling or fighting. It's a matter of the same intensity. That's part of the game. A.V. responded."
The other side of the coin was just how overwhelmed the Lightning looked for three periods. Outside of a Vinny Lecavalier goal in the first period that brought his team to within 2-1 – a goal that was answered by Drury a mere 72 seconds later – there weren't many positives to draw from this debacle.
"You have to look yourself in the mirror," Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said. "We have a two-week stretch of games coming up and we're either going to be in the hunt for playoffs … (or) if we're so far back, it's going to be awfully hard to get back. You have to learn and realize at some point that we can't play flat like we did tonight."
The Lightning finished 1-2-0 on their short road trip and looked every bit like a team that was playing its second road game in two days -- Tampa Bay won 3-2 at Carolina on Monday.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves to pick up his 22nd win of the season. The Rangers' struggles on offense for most of this season have led to a lot of stressful nights for Lundqvist, and Tuesday's game was just the second time this season in 44 games that he entered the third period of a game with a three-goal lead.
"We were pretty hot early in the year, we had a little streak three or four weeks ago, but now it feels like we're playing the game the right way," Voros said. "Whereas before, even during those runs, we had a goal by one or maybe two guys and Hank was winning games for us. Now it seems like Hank is doing his job and we're helping him at the other end, not just relying on him to kick everything."
Lundqvist must've felt like he won a lottery with all of the support he received Tuesday. Dubinsky scored 86 seconds into the game with Lecavalier in the penalty box for interference, and Prospal scored at the 7:05 mark to make it 2-0 in the blink of an eye.
Lecavalier's goal at 17:21 of the first period off a great individual effort (although the Rangers will tell you the goal shouldn’t have counted because Alex Tanguay was in the crease and interfering with Lundqvist on the goal) seemed to turn the tide, but Drury's goal immediately after made a statement that this night belonged to the Rangers.
"It was important," Tortorella said of Drury's eighth goal of the season. "You may not have an important moment, you think, in an 8-2 game, but that was, to answer back. Because they've got some good people. They've got some good offensive people."
From there, the game turned into a rout and the Garden had a party atmosphere. Girardi's wrist shot from the point deflected off Lightning defenseman Andrej Mezsaros, and past goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who slammed his stick in anger after the goal that came 5:23 into the second period.
Niittymaki's night came to end after Lisin made it 5-1 by slamming home a terrible rebound off a bad-angle shot by Matt Gilroy. Tocchet inserted rookie goaltender Dustin Tokaraski for the final 24:21, and the 20-year-old fared no better.
Tanguay's 5-on-3 goal with 2:51 remaining in the second period helped with the cosmetics of the blowout, but third-period goals by Staal, Voros and Higgins capped a night in which the Rangers could seemingly do no wrong.
"It was one of those nights where everything was going in," Gaborik said. "We deserved it. We haven't been scoring that many goals lately. We played physical and I think we played well as a team."