NEW YORK -- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the NHL, there's nothing prettier than a victory and the two points that come with it.
That's not how coach Guy Boucher viewed it following the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-1 win against the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Even in victory, Boucher saw the worst performance by his team all season.
"It's the ugliest win of the year," Boucher said, before taking it a step further. "It's the ugliest game of the year. Period. We got shellacked a few times, but even in those games, we could make a pass and do something."
It may not have been pretty, but the victory moved the Lightning five points ahead of the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division and within five points of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers. Tampa Bay is 4-1-2 in its last seven games.
Vincent Lecavalier scored the tiebreaking, game-winning goal on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period. He cranked a one-timer from the right circle that beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Martin St. Louis, who scored the game's first goal off a pretty give-and-go with Steve Downie, set up Lecavalier's goal and now has 75 points on the season, good for third in the League. He trails Vancouver's Daniel Sedin by four points for the League lead.
St. Louis was wearing an ice bag on his left forearm after blocking a shot, but he's expected to be fine for the Lightning's next game against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.
Lecavalier had been slowed by a broken hand this season, but he has caught fire of late. He has 7 goals in his last 9 games after scoring just 8 goals in his first 36 games.
"I think the last 15 games, things have been going really well," Lecavalier said. "I'm skating a lot better. You gain confidence. You start to see more of the net. I've had some great one-timers from Marty. I'm just putting it on net and things have been going in."
The Rangers woke up midway through the second period while the Lightning were on a power play. Before Lecavalier was the hero, he was the goat when he turned the puck over to the Rangers' Brandon Prust, who skated past a bumbling Marc-Andre Bergeron before scoring a controversial goal on a breakaway to tie the score at 1-1.
Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson poked the puck off Prust's stick, but it caromed off Prust's skate and into the net as Prust barreled into Roloson.
The goal was reviewed in Toronto and allowed to stand. Boucher said one of his assistants saw the replay and felt it shouldn't have been a goal.
But of more importance to Boucher was how his captain didn't let his turnover bring him down.
"Character guy," Boucher said. "He was the first one to blame himself. I knew after it he was on a mission. He played great in the third period. Everybody bought into what we were supposed to do in the third period."
Roloson protected the lead flawlessly and made 10 saves during the third period. With the Rangers pressing late for the tying goal, the 41-year-old made key stops on Michael Sauer and Derek Stepan in the final minutes.
After winning just 6 of 20 games with the New York Islanders, Roloson is 12-6-1 since he was acquired by the Lightning in early January despite posting a similar goals-against average and worse save percentage in Tampa.
"For me, it's just about trying to give them a chance to win," Roloson said. "I know it's cliché, but realistically it's all I'm trying to do. Today, we were able to battle through and we were able to battle through and get a close game victory."
Defenseman Bryan McCabe made his Rangers debut after he was traded by the Florida Panthers on Saturday in exchange for Tim Kennedy and a third-round draft pick. He didn't make an immediate impact on the Rangers' 21st-ranked power play, which went 0-for-4.
McCabe played 17:35 while wearing a face shield to protect a broken jaw that cost him six weeks with the Panthers. He finished with an even rating and two shots.
"He has been a good defenseman his whole career and we are lucky to have him," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "You saw he gets shots through, he almost scored. He has great poise and was a great pickup for us."
The Rangers remained in seventh place in the East with 70 points, three more than the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes. The ninth-place Buffalo Sabres will come to MSG to face the Rangers on Tuesday in a game with huge playoff implications, as the Sabres are five points behind the Rangers but have three games in hand.
Rangers coach John Tortorella was furious after the game, but eventually offered a calm assessment of his team.
"We had problems with our forecheck," Tortorella said. "We had problems with their quickness early on. They sit back, watch it, dump it in -- we knew how they were going to play. We outchanced them but our forecheck wasn't steady enough."
The Lightning certainly weren't pretty, but they were good enough to win on the road after playing 12 straight games at home.
Does that bode well for a team looking to make a deep run in the postseason?
"One step a time, but we believe in what we can do," Lecavalier said. "We believe in our system. That’s a very powerful thing. We're already playing playoff hockey. Once we get to the playoffs, we'll just play the same way and I think things we'll go well."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
Martin St. Louis
2 - 1 TBL
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