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Solid third period not enough vs. Bolts

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers rookie defenseman Michael Sauer looks to keep Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos in check on Wednesday. Stamkos turned in a truly outstanding game, getting a goal and two assists on the night.

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By Jim Cerny,

On Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Rangers ran right smack into one of the hottest teams in the league right now. And when the Rangers’ own play was not at its best either, the combination was too much to overcome.

As a result, the Rangers suffered 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thanksgiving Eve in a game where Tampa Bay jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two periods before the Blueshirts regrouped in the third period to make the final score much closer.

“Give them credit that they played a good game,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of his former club, the Lightning. “But we just looked brain dead through the first part of that game. Why? I don’t know. I wish I had the answer.”

Steven Stamkos had a hand in each of the game’s first three goals, recording his league-leading 21st goal to go along with two assists to up his league-high point total to 38. Teammate Martin St. Louis picked up three assists, and Ryan Malone scored twice as the Lightning won their fifth consecutive game.

“There have been a handful of guys that’s done a lot of work for this club, and we need that other handful who haven’t to come and play in our next game,” said Tortorella. “I looked at their best players and they were pretty good (Wednesday) night. I didn’t see our best players.”

Although the Rangers spoke extensively about how to shut down Stamkos prior to the game --mainly by not allowing him the ability to move freely around the ice and to not allow him easy scoring chances -- the exact opposite of what they wanted took place.

Tampa’s first two goals -- with Stamkos earning primary assists on each -- were scored on the power play, as Stamkos and St. Louis had plenty of space to weave their magic. With Ryan Callahan off for holding, Malone scored his first of the game off a goal-mouth scramble at 7:06 of the first period. Nine minutes later, with Derek Boogaard serving a hooking minor, Malone had an easy slam-dunk score when Stamkos slid a quick pass untouched across the crease.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi plays the puck along the boards just ahead of Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim on Wednesday night at Tampa.
“We gave them everything they got,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto. “We knew they had a dynamic power play and we gave them chance after chance. We hurt ourselves. Right off the bat we played into their game plan. And when they got the first power-play goal, then there was a domino effect.”

The Rangers generated very little offense in the opening 20 minutes, unable to get the puck in deep into the Lightning end, consistently turning the puck over in the neutral zone. Tampa Bay held an 11-5 advantage in shots during the first period.

The second period was even rougher. The Rangers were outshot 14-2 in the middle 20 minutes and outscored 3-0 as the Lightning built an insurmountable 5-0 lead.

“They’re skilled and they’re top-five in scoring in the league and they have good players,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who finished with 29 saves. “Their power play killed us, and there were some tough goals we allowed.”

Stamkos drove to the net to convert a Steve Downie pass off a 3-on-1 rush after Marc Staal fell down 4:53 into the second. Stamkos has now scored 21 goals in just 22 games this season, fueling talk that he could become just the sixth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games. While that possibility is a long way off, if Stamkos could achieve that feat he would join hockey legends Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull in the 50/50 club.

The Rangers surrendered another power-play goal at 11:05 of the second when Brett Clark was credited with his fifth goal. The goal marked the third time this season Tampa Bay has recorded three power-play scores in a game, and was the first time this season that the Rangers had surrendered three in a game.

Ironically, the Rangers had not given up a power-play goal in seven straight games prior to Wednesday, and had not given up more than one in a game since Nov. 4 at Philadelphia.

Victor Hedman floated a point shot past a screened Lundqvist with 3:04 to play in the middle stanza upping the Lightning lead to 5-0.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist clears the puck away from Tampa Bay forward Nate Thompson. Teammates lamented their inability to give Lundqvist more offensive support on Wednesday.
When the period ended Lundqvist -- who had not played since being lifted in his most recent start last Friday in Colorado -- remained crouched in his crease for an extended stretch with his head bowed. Eventually he slowly skated to the tunnel leading to the team’s locker room.

“Hank has been the backbone of this club since long before I got here, and he’s won a lot of hockey games for us, but it seems like when he’s played (this year) we haven’t played very well in front of him,” said Brandon Dubinsky. “It’s not fair to him. We need to give him some support. It just (stinks) because he’s always been there for us and been the rock for us.”

Steve Eminger ruined Mike Smith’s shutout bid by scoring his first goal of the season on a screened slap shot 3:58 into the third period. Rookie Derek Stepan earned the assist on Eminger’s goal and now has points in five straight games.

After Sean Avery received 17 minutes in penalties jumping to Erik Christensen’s defense after the Blueshirts center was crushed with an open-ice hit thrown by Tampa’s Mattias Ohlund, the Rangers received a shorthanded goal from Brian Boyle to cut the Lightning lead to 5-2.

The goal was Boyle’s 10th of the season already, more than doubling his previous career-high of four. Stepan added a 5-on-3 power play goal with 1:04 remaining for the game’s final score.

“We have to play a full 60 (minutes) or as close to it as we possibly can,” said Dubinsky. “Tonight we only played 20 of those 60.”

Although the Rangers won the final period,  it was a case of too little too late, although it did set a more positive tone for their next game, when they visit the Florida Panthers on Friday night.
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