Of the three games played between the teams over the past 15 days, this was the Rangers’ best performance. It was also the Lightning’s shakiest. Despite that, the Bolts were able to complete the season series sweep of New York because they made key plays at key times.
The early part of the game belonged to the Lightning, who received a goal from Tyler Johnson at 6:32 of the first after a strong puck possession shift in the New York end. Over the next several minutes, the Bolts had a number of other good looks on Henrik Lundqvist, but couldn’t add to the lead.
When the Rangers are on their game, they are able to use their speed to generate chances off the rush – and on the forecheck. A quick forechecking play by Carl Hagelin led to Kevin Hayes’ tying goal at 12:14 and that goal momentarily sparked the home side. But The Bolts grabbed the lead back late in the frame after Brett Connolly whistled a wrist shot past a screened Lundqvist.
The second period was the best period the Rangers played against the Lightning this year. Their speed was on display throughout most of the frame – and they were able to create dangerous looks off the rush. Repeatedly. One of those rushes yielded a Jesper Fast goal, which tied the score at two. Then, during a Rangers power play, Derick Brassard’s rush led to a hooking penalty on Cedric Paquette. Even though the Rangers didn’t score on the brief five-second five-on-three, they held the puck in the offensive zone and eventually converted on the ensuing five-on-four. Marty St. Louis tucked in a rebound to give the Rangers their first lead of the night.
Then came the key moment of the game. The Lightning received their own five-on-three – and, unlike the Rangers’s chance, this was a lengthy two-man advantage. Despite the long power play, the Lightning couldn’t score and the Rangers were poised to ride a momentum wave from the successful kills. But instead, the Lightning were tenacious in keeping the puck in the New York zone, not allowing the Rangers to change players. Anton Stralman intercepted a Ryan McDonagh clearing attempt and fed Ryan Callahan for a shot. After the Lundqvist save, Valtteri Filppula won a puck battle for the rebound from two Rangers and worked the puck to Johnson. Johnson passed to Matt Carle who roofed a shot off the inner crossbar. That goal tied the score again – and prevented the Rangers from building any momentum off their kills.
In the third period, the Lightning were better in their rush coverage, but early on, they struggled to clear pucks from their own end. Five minutes into the third, during a shift in which the Rangers held some Lightning clearing attempts, Marty St. Louis slashed Ondrej Palat as he tried to pass the puck out of the d-zone. On the following power play, Connolly rifled another shot past Lundqvist’s glove. That goal decisively turned game’s momentum. The Bolts buzzed around the Rangers net on the shift after the goal (Brian Boyle’s line) and then, just over a minute later, Nikita Kucherov forechecked behind the New York net, grabbed the puck and set up Johnson for another tally. Up 5-3, the Lightning managed the rest of the game pretty well. They kept the crowd quiet and the Rangers didn’t have many extended offensive zone shifts. They also did a nice job killing a late penalty. The call was made with 1:47 left and the Rangers pulled Lundqvist for a six-on-four advantage. On their first three power play chances, the Rangers recorded nine shots (and one goal). But they didn’t register one shot during the six-on-four. The Lightning were able to shoot the puck down the ice a couple of times to alleviate pressure and then, in the final minute, Palat grabbed a loose puck at center ice and shot it into the vacated net for a short-handed goal.
It wasn’t the Lightning’s best overall game. They endured some shaky d-zone shifts and they struggled with rush coverage in the middle part of the game. Ben Bishop had to bail out his teammates on a number of occasions with spectacular saves. Also, the Rangers did a nice job of limiting the Steven Stamkos line, which had scorched them in the two previous contests. But the Lightning are so explosive and so balanced that they were still able to put five pucks past Henrik Lundqvist, one of the best goalies in the world. And three of those goals (the two Connolly tallies and the Carle score) came at crucial moments, helping the Lightning snatch momentum away from the Rangers.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Carle’s goal, which came 26 seconds after the extended five-on-three ended. It tied the score at 3.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Brett Connolly – Lightning. Two goals, including GWG.
2.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two goals.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 32 saves, including several spectacular stops.