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Johnson, Connolly send Lightning past Rangers

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Lightning can't be happy that their season series with the New York Rangers is over.

That's one team they won't have a chance to dominate in their final 57 games.

The Lightning did it to New York again Monday at Madison Square Garden as Tyler Johnson and Brett Connolly each had two goals and Victor Hedman had three assists in a 6-3 victory, the Lightning's third win against the Rangers in the past 15 days.

Tampa Bay scored 15 goals in the three wins against New York, including 11 in two games at the Garden. The Lightning also defeated the Rangers 5-1 at the Garden on Nov. 17 and 4-3 at Amalie Arena last Wednesday.

"If we were to play them eight times I don't think we'd beat them all eight times, but obviously it's good to play well against them," Connolly said. "They're a good team and we're going to have to beat some more teams to ride the wave a little bit."

Prior to the game, the Rangers emphasized shutting down Tampa Bay's top line of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn, a line that had 12 points on six goals and six assists in the first two games against New York.

The Rangers did what they set out to do, limiting the top line to one assist from Stamkos. They had no answer for the Lightning's depth.

Connolly and Johnson scored their second goals of the game in the first 6:59 of the third period to break open what was a 3-3 game. Connolly's winner came at 5:34 off a wrist shot from the right circle. Johnson's provided some insurance with a one-timer from the slot 84 seconds later.

Johnson also had an assist on Matt Carle's game-tying goal in the third period, which came after the Rangers killed off 80 seconds of 5-on-3 time only to fail to clear the puck out of the zone. Ondrej Palat scored an empty-net goal.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop picked up his 15th win of the season with 32 saves. He is 8-0-0 against the Rangers in his career.

"They have a lot of weapons," Rangers right wing and former Lightning captain Martin St. Louis said of Tampa Bay. "It's a good skating team. They hold onto it [the puck]. They make a lot of plays.

"We played them three times in two weeks; if you don't get on the good side at least once it's tough to take."

Connolly's goals were his first points since he scored against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 20. Johnson broke a six-game goalless streak with his two goals. Carle's goal was his second of the season.

Hedman's three assists were his first points since breaking his finger on Oct. 18 at the Vancouver Canucks. He missed 18 games before returning this past Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

"Our team is built on four lines," Johnson said. "We don't rely on one line. Everyone has to contribute. Teams are going to try to match up the best they can, but we feel we have four really good lines and when you have that it's tough to play against and fun to play with."

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist allowed all five goals on 20 shots Monday and 14 goals on 79 shots in the three losses.

Coach Alain Vigneault said the Rangers "had a couple key performers [Monday night] that picked a bad night to have an ordinary game." It's clear at least one of the players he was talking about was Lundqvist, who was beaten on a pair of long wrist shots by Connolly and on one-timers from in close by Johnson and Carle.

"I would say to you, like the rest of our team right now, we need to find a way to put our A game on the ice on a more consistent basis," Vigneault said when asked about Lundqvist.

Lundqvist said it was tough for him to get into a flow against the Lightning on Monday because of the limited action in front of him. Connolly's game-winning goal came on the Lightning's 15th shot of the game.

"I look at the goals and I can point at a couple things, but the bottom line is I just need to fight better to pick up pucks through screens," Lundqvist said.

Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and St. Louis scored for the Rangers, who built a 3-2 lead in the second period but wasted a chance to have momentum on their side after killing off the 5-on-3.

The Garden crowd was roaring in approval, but there was one detail that prevented the Rangers from using it to their advantage. Their skaters, particularly forward Dominic Moore and defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, were gassed and couldn't get off the ice because they couldn't get the puck out of the zone.

Eventually, Ryan McDonagh's clearing attempt was intercepted at the blue line by Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. Seconds later Johnson, who had just come on the ice, found Carle for a near-side one-timer from the left circle that snuck between Lundqvist's blocker and the crossbar.

"You could hear a pin drop after that," Carle said. "That was the turning point."

Connolly and Johnson then provided the daggers. The Lightning wouldn't mind a few more shots at the Rangers.

"We've just played some good hockey against them," Connolly said. "Tonight probably wasn't our best, but we found a way to win on the road and that's what good teams are doing right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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