The New York Rangers entered this game with one of the worst goals against averages in the league. I don't think it's a stretch, then, to conclude that this game was one of their best, if not their very best, defensive efforts of the season. The Rangers played a hard, structured game and were committed to taking away the Lightning's time and space in all three zones.
If this sounds familiar, it's because I wrote a similar recap last Saturday when Anaheim played the Lightning. It's clear that opponents are on high alert when they play the Lightning. Those teams know that if they aren't going to defend as well as they can, they're going to be fishing a lot of pucks out of their net.
From the Lightning's perspective, then, they will need to ready for these types of efforts from the opposition. As long as the Lightning are at or near the top of the standings and among the league's highest scoring teams, they should expect to see the opposition's best defensive performance.
As if often the case, a team's strong defensive game also helped fuel its attack. The Rangers were able to generate a vast number of Grade-A scoring chances. But thanks to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 33 saves, the Lightning were still able to bank a point.
It took the Lightning about a period to match the Rangers' high-urgency game. The first period featured several odd-man rushes for New York and the Rangers converted on a three-on-one late in the frame to grab the lead.
But in the second period, the Lightning raised their level and the next 30 minutes (the second and first half of the third) was much more evenly played. During that time, the Lightning had a slight edge, in fact. They posted 16 second period shots and forced Henrik Lundqvist to make a number of high quality saves. The Bolts tied the game on a nice shorthanded goal from Yanni Gourde, who was one of the Lightning's best players in the game.
There was some controversy early in the third, when Alex Killorn scored off a shot from the point. But the goal was disallowed due to goalie interference. The Lightning used their coach's challenge, but the no-goal call was upheld on video review. I confess I was surprised the goal didn't count. It looked as though Gabriel Dumont didn't impede Lundqvist's ability to make the save. There was hardly any contact - and to the extent that there was any contact, it was caused by New York defenseman Steven Kampfer, who nudged Dumont closer to Lundqvist. But the referee saw it differently, obviously, and the goal was disallowed.
The Lightning maintained that higher level through the disallowed goal up until the halfway point of the third. That's when they reverted to the sloppy play that plagued them in the first. New York had numerous chances off the rush, either off turnovers and poor coverage, and Vasilevskiy repeatedly bailed his team out. He couldn't stop J.T. Miller's rush in overtime, but his performance was enough to secure a point for the Bolts.
In all, it was an uneven performance for the Lightning against a desperate, hungry, committed opponent that played a strong, overall game.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
The disallowed goal in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 33 saves.
- Henrik Lundqvist - Rangers. 27 saves.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. SHG.