The Lightning knew, heading into this game, that they would see a spirited effort from the Rangers, who did not play well when the teams met last week at Madison Square Garden. The Bolts needed to be ready for an opponent focused on helping Marty St. Louis have a triumphant return to Tampa (just as the Lightning were motivated to help former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle secure the win last week at MSG).
Well, the Rangers did play a more competitive game than they did last week, but it didn’t matter. The Lightning were still the better team.
There was an area, however, in the first period in which the Rangers were effective – it was their forecheck. They were able to put pressure on the Lightning in the defensive zone and disrupt clearing attempts. They benefitted from a bad bounce off of Andrej Sustr’s stick, which led to an open chance for Mats Zuccarello, who scored the first Rangers goal. New York also netted a well-executed first period power play goal, a sequence which also resulted from a Lightning d-zone turnover.
But in all other areas, the Lightning defended well in the first period. They didn’t any New York chances off the rush and held their coverage well when the Rangers had the puck in the offensive end. Despite allowing those two first period goals, they limited the Rangers to only five first period shots. And like the Rangers, the Lightning were able to forecheck effectively in the New York d-zone and force turnovers. They also did damage on the power play, netting a pair of PPG in the opening period.
From the start of the second period until Rick Nash’s goal at 12:49 of the third, the Lightning completely dominated the game. They no longer had trouble executing breakout passes and as a result, enjoyed most of the puck possession. Callahan’s second goal of the game gave the Bolts a 3-2 lead at 10:17 of the second. The play started with a clean d-zone breakout – and those tape-to-tape passes up ice allowed Steven Stamkos to skate through the neutral zone with speed. He eventually darted behind the New York net and centered to an open Callahan in the slot.
Nikita Kucherov extended the lead with a deflection goal at 9:38 of the third before Nash converted that aforementioned chance in the slot. The Nash goal came after four consecutive icings on the Lightning (of which a couple were, at best, 50/50 calls) and sparked the Rangers for a final push. In the closing minutes, they had some shifts in which they buzzed around the Lightning end, but, for the most part, the Bolts kept the dangerous chances to a minimum.
So here’s the takeaway. On a night in which they knew they were going to face a very motivated opponent, the Lightning, despite three goals allowed, defended quite well. They held the Rangers to just 19 shots. They decisively carried play for long stretches, with the Stamkos-Callahan-Alex Killorn line leading the charge. They netted four goals against Henrik Lundqvist, one of the best goalies in the league. And frankly, if not for Lundqvist, they would have scored more than four. It was an impressive performance.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Callahan’s second goal, which gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Two goals and assist.
2.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Goal and two assists.
3.Henrik Lundqvist – Rangers. Terrific in defeat, despite allowing four goals.