It took three tries, but finally, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a victory over the New York Rangers this season.
The Lightning were blown out 6-1 in New York in arguably their worst game of the season on October 30. They lost a hard-fought 1-0 game in overtime a week ago at AMALIE Arena in a game that felt more like a Conference Final playoff game than an early-March regular season tilt.
But on Monday, behind a two-goal night from Brayden Point and a 26-save performance by Peter Budaj, the Lightning earned a 3-2 win over the Blueshirts, completing the three-game regular-season series against New York with a 1-1-1 record.
Tampa Bay has won three-straight games now and has picked up points in seven of its last eight games (6-1-1 over that stretch) and 14 of its last 16 contests (11-2-3 over that stretch).
How were they able to keep their hot play going against the Rangers?
A closer look at another huge victory for the Bolts' playoff chase in 3 Things we learned from a win in the Big Apple.
Video: TBL@NYR: Point nets nice feed for PPG on his birthday
1. BIRTHDAY BOY
Brayden Point celebrated his 21st birthday on Monday.
Here's guessing his teammates will buy him a round of beer or two now that he's legally (smirk) able to drink.
Point scored two goals against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, netting both the opening goal and the game-winner, for the first multi-goal game of his rookie season.
Point's first goal may have been the most important goal of the game for the Lightning. New York grabbed an early 1-0 lead when Steven Kampfer's shot from the point eluded Peter Budaj in goal. The Lightning were getting outshot drastically, and falling behind on the road could have been the beginning of an avalanche the Bolts would never dig out from.
Instead, Point provided an answer on an a power play less than two minutes later, one-timing Nikita Kucherov's shot from behind the goal past Antti Raanta to level the score 1-1.
"The little engine that could, Brayden Point, he came through big for us," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said.
With less than seven minutes remaining in regulation and the score even 2-2, Point supplied the winning goal, redirecting Ondrej Palat's shot from the left circle past Raanta at the edge of the crease.
Point has 11 goals and 26 points in his rookie season with the Lightning, ranking eighth on the team in both categories.
"I know this is cliché, it's been used a million times, but he's a hockey player," Cooper said. "It's what he is. You saw it in the first development camp he came to us, he was more undersized than he is now, but I truly believe when you have commitment and the work ethic, that's your first thing that you notice on a player, everything else will fall into place. And that's what that kid has. He goes into a corner and it doesn't matter the size of the guy he's going in against, I'm always sitting there thinking, 'He's going to come out with this.' And you've got to have a will and he does."
Video: TBL@NYR: Budaj turns aside Kreider's breakaway
2. BUDAJ ROCKIN'
Peter Budaj made just his second start for the Lightning since coming over from the Los Angeles Kings three days before the trade deadline.
He was solid in his first start March 3 at Pittsburgh but succumbed to the unrelenting pressure the Penguins applied in a 5-2 loss that was closer than the final score indicated.
On Monday, the result turned out much more favorable for Budaj.
The 34-year-old netminder made 26 saves on 28 shots to earn his first victory in a Lightning uniform and 28thwin on the season, ninth most in the NHL.
Budaj made his presence felt early, thwarting Chris Kreider's breakaway in the opening minute to show the Rangers he would be a tough wall to crack all night.
"If he doesn't stop that, who knows where our momentum goes," Cooper said.
The Lightning were outshot 13-3 in the opening period yet went into the first intermission tied 1-1. The Bolts took just 16 shots for the game, tied for their lowest shot output of the season.
Budaj kept the Lightning in the game while the offense struggled to get on track.
"Budaj played awesome," Point said. "They were all over us, and, without him, it would have been a different game for sure."
Following the victory, Budaj said he grows more and more comfortable with his new teammates every day.
"It's a great group of guys, and I like it here a lot," he said. "It's a great organization. The guys are really working hard for me in front of me. A couple of guys blocked big shots and are making the little plays like getting the pucks out. I appreciate that a lot and you see the team is playing really hard in front of you and sacrificing their bodies is great to see and we got those two points."
Video: TBL@NYR: Dumont tips home Garrison's big drive
3. WINNING THE SPECIAL TEAMS BATTLE
Coming into New York, the Lightning had scored more power play goals than any other team in the NHL.
They added to that tally against the Rangers, netting their 53rd of the season, their most in a season since they put up 69 in the 2010-11 season. The power-play goal at Madison Square Garden came at an opportune moment too as the Lightning had just fallen behind 1-0 and were being vastly outplayed up to that point of the first period.
"We scored a big goal in the first, and that was huge for us," Budaj said. "We kept it 1-1, and then it was anyone's game."
The Bolts were solid on the penalty kill too, although they were rarely tested, having to kill just one penalty on the night. Still, it continues a trend of improved penalty killing for the Lightning, who haven't given up an opponent power-play goal for four-consecutive games now.
Tampa Bay won the special teams battle against the Rangers, and that led to an impressive road win in the Big Apple.