TAMPA -- What befell the Rangers on Thursday happened so early and so quickly that it felt like the blink of an eye, or okay, a bolt of lightning. Now the objective for the Rangers becomes to contain it, so that it remains just one harsh flash in what otherwise has been a bright and confidence-building stretch of hockey.
The Blueshirts were blitzed in Tampa on Thursday, besieged by power plays and down by four goals less than seven minutes into the game, and ultimately falling, 9-3, to the Lightning in the opener of a two-game swing through Florida. The Rangers, already without Mika Zibanejad for the eighth straight game, were forced to start this one without the red-hot Kaapo Kakko, a last-minute scratch because of the flu, and were forced to finish it without Jacob Trouba, who left in the second period with an upper-body injury, though David Quinn did not expect it would keep him from Saturday's match with the Panthers in Sunrise.
That's where the Rangers are directing their attention now: forward, not back. "Forget this game," Jesper Fast said afterward. "We've been playing good hockey lately, and we know as a team it can't be this bad, We have a young and inexperienced team, but we've got to be better than this. We have to correct it and move on."
Indeed, the Rangers had entered the game with points in six of their last seven games, a 5-1-1 run that began with a convincing victory over this same Tampa at the Garden on Oct. 29, one in which Lightning captain Steven Stamkos recalled on Thursday, "They took it to us." That game happened to be Filip Chytil's first with the Rangers following his promotion from Hartford, and the 20-year-old center scored the game-winning goal in his season debut.
On Thursday, Chytil scored twice more against Tampa, once shorthanded, giving him the first multi-goal game of his career and making it six goals in his eight NHL games this season.
Chytil has points in four straight games, but it was the Rangers' leading scorer, Artemi Panarin, who stretched his point streak to 10, establishing a new career high. He extended the streak - the longest by a Ranger since Rick Nash's 11-game run in 2014-15 - with a fantastic lead pass to find Chris Kreider winning a footrace up the middle in the first period, then tacked on another helper on Chytil's first score.
Still, "Collectively, we'd gone so far away from how we played them in the first game," said Kreider, whose goal was his fifth of the year. "Obviously there's a ton to learn from that, but that one hurts."
For the Lightning, their Oct. 29 visit to Broadway was the beginning of 2½ straight weeks on the road, first in New York and then in Stockholm. Thursday's game was their first in five days, and their first at home in 19 days - and by all appearances they were sitting on springs in anticipation of playing it.
After Luke Schenn opened the scoring with a seeing-eye shot 2:39 in, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov scored on both ends of a 5-on-3 just 39 seconds apart, and Ondrej Palat scored only 22 seconds after that to make it 4-0 and bring in Henrik Lundqvist in a rare relief appearance after just 6:42 had been played.
"We just lost to a really good hockey team that was on their A game, and we were far from on our A game," Quinn said. "When that happens, you get the result that we got tonight."
The Rangers took issue with the calls that put them down two men for a full two minutes early in what was then still a 1-0 game - it came about when Killorn made contact with Alexandar Georgiev and Tony DeAngelo confronted him, drawing a slashing minor to add to Brendan Lemieux's delayed hooking penalty. "I did not like the call on Tony," said Ryan Strome. "I thought it was a bad call. We're already going down a man."
"Whether I agree with the call or not," said Quinn, "that really opened the floodgates."
The Lightning got goals from eight different players on the night, two from Killorn, Stamkos' 399th, and a goal and three assists from Kucherov, last season's leading scorer and Hart Trophy winner. Tampa Bay scored five times on 15 shots over eight power plays, as the Rangers finished with 55 minutes in penalties.
"Hard to explain what really happened, it went so quick, but today we didn't act like a team, and we took way too many penalties," Fast said. "It's hard to have a good explanation, but it's a tough, tough night for us."
"Listen, we lost one game. And I know obviously the way it went," Quinn said. "But we've got to dust ourselves off and be ready to play on Saturday. Really at the end of the day that's what it's about.
"We've played some pretty good hockey up to this point, and we've got to move past this. Maybe we weren't able to stem the tide during the course of the game, but we've got to do it in between games and be ready to play Saturday."