There were some circumstantial elements working against the Lightning for this game. They were playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent. They were coming off a hard-fought, emotional contest on Friday against the Islanders, a game that went into overtime and a shootout. Additionally, they were without Brayden Point, who was out with a lower body injury.
As it turned out, the path to victory was a bumpy one for the Lightning. They endured a sloppy first period and a third period push by the Rangers. But thanks to a terrific performance from Louis Domingue, a timely first period goal and a strong second period, the Lightning emerged with a victory.
Despite scoring the only goal in the first, the Lightning didn't have a particularly strong period. They looked a bit flat (perhaps still feeling the aftereffects of Friday's contest) and weren't skating as well as they normally do. They struggled to clear pucks from the own end and their passing wasn't crisp. Their biggest issue, however, was loose coverage in the defensive zone. The Rangers generated several Grade-A scoring chances in the opening five minutes of the game. Fortunately for the Lightning, Domingue was ready for the challenge and stopped them all. Late in the frame, he denied Ryan Strome on a breakaway (making two saves in the process). The Lightning's goal came on a counter rush. Ryan McDonagh started the sequence when he intercepted a pass at center ice. Moments later, he accepted a pass in the offensive zone and ripped a shot on net. Henrik Lundqvist made the save, but the puck trickled behind him. Yanni Gourde knocked it in the net before the Rangers could clear it.
In the second period, the Lightning found their rhythm and grabbed momentum. They moved pucks fluidly up the ice and owned the majority of the puck possession. Two rushes yielded goals, including Erik Cernak's first NHL tally. Up until the final few minutes of the period, the Rangers' attack was quiet as the Lightning dominated play. But when Mats Zuccarello scored off the rush at 16:17, the Rangers regained momentum. Domingue had to make a couple of tough saves before the period ended.
Making a push in the third, the Rangers had most of the possession time. Kevin Hayes converted on a power play at 6:19 to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2. The Rangers had a shooting mentality, putting 16 third period shots on net. They did generate a few good looks, including a couple from Chris Kreider in the closing minutes. But compared to the first period, the Lightning did a much better job of limiting the Grade-A chances against. They also delivered an excellent and successful penalty kill late in the third to preserve the lead. Ultimately, they found a way to navigate through the third against a fresher opponent and get this game across the finish line.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Brian Engblom):
1. Louis Domingue - Lightning. 31 saves.
2. Mika Zibanejad - Rangers. Two assists.
3. Anthony Cirelli - Lightning. Strong defensive game.