The Tampa Bay Lightning came to historic Madison Square Garden hobbled by injuries and their playoff hopes on life support. However, they are somehow playing their best hockey of the season and would look to get as many points possible out of their first game of a back to back mini-road trip. The New York Rangers are comfortably sitting in the top wild card spot and not far out from winning their division until they got hit with a serious injury blow, losing stud goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for an indefinite amount of time as the NHL season hits the homestretch. Both teams recently played to a defensive chess match only a week ago, resulting in 1-0 Rangers overtime victory. Points are at premium for both teams, and with both dealing with injuries, the team whose bench stepped up would likely make sure their club banked those critical two points as the playoffs near.
The 1st period started with a familiar sight for Lightning fans; a slow start. The Rangers would pressure Tampa goaltender Peter Budaj with a couple of early shots in the first five minutes, including a breakaway on their very first shift; while the Lightning would fail to record a shot on goal. The Rangers pressure would pay dividends as Mats Zuccarello would win the face off in the Tampa zone, pass to Chris Kreider, who would find Steven Kampfer for a one-time shot that would deflect past Budaj giving New York the early 1-0 lead in the 1st period. The goal would seem to wake up the Bolts, as they would record their first shot on goal on the next shift and force Rangers defensemen Brendan Smith to take a tripping penalty which would give the Lightning their first power play of the game. Tampa would not waste the man advantage as Nikita Kucherov would find the birthday boy Brayden Point in front of the New York net, and Point would bury the puck far side past Rangers net minder Antti Raanta, tying the game at 1-1 midway thru the 1st period. Tampa’s defense would continue to struggle throughout the 1st period, allowing a barrage of wide open shots at Budaj. Late in the 1st Lightning defender Andrej Sustr would rush his clearing attempt and shoot it over the glass causing a delay of game penalty, and giving the Rangers their 1st power play of the night. New York would whiff on their one scoring chance on the subsequent power play, and the Tampa penalty kill would kill off the rest of the delay of game penalty, keeping the game tied at 1-1. The 1st period would end tied 1-1 despite the Rangers dominating the Lightning for about 19 of the 20 possible minutes of the period. Bolts fans and players would likely thank Peter Budaj for keeping the club in the game through the 1st period. New York would hold a massive shots on goal advantage 13-2 after one.
Tampa knew they needed to start the 2nd period with some urgency that they did not show in the 1st period. The Lightning would respond from the opening face-off, surpassing their shots on goal total for the entire 1st period after only 3 minutes in the 2nd period. Tampa defenseman Jason Garrison would embrace the new-found shooting strategy and it would pay off early in the 2nd period. Garrison found some space in the New York zone and fire a shot on net that would deflect off teammate Gabriel Dumont and fly past Raanta giving the Lightning their first lead of the game at 2-1 early in the 2nd period. Jason Garrison would give one back to New York midway through the 2nd period as he whiffed on a pass attempt deep in the Lightning zone. Rangers winger Michael Grabner would take the gift turnover and sneak it past Budaj who was hung out to dry by Garrison’s turnover, tying the game at 2-2 midway through the 2nd period. Budaj would make some key saves late in the 2nd period to keep the game tied headed into the 3rd period. The Lightning would shoot the puck better in the 2nd period, but only by comparison to their awful 1st period. The Rangers would maintain their dominant shots on goal advantage 20-9 after two periods of play.
The 3rd period would start with the Rangers continuing their dominant play and Budaj bailing out the Lightning to keep the game tied at 2-2. Despite their refusal to shoot, the Lightning would get their 2nd power play of the night after Rangers center Oscar Lindberg would trip him near center ice. Tampa would finally get their first shot on goal of the 3rd period during the power play but could not convert the man advantage into a goal. The Lightning looked ready to go back into the shell until Ondrej Palat would find a streaking Brayden Point in front of the Rangers net, and the young center would score his second goal of the game giving the Lightning a critical 3-2 lead late in the 3rd period. Peter Budaj would make some big time saves down the stretch to persevere Tampa’s 1 goal lead. The Lightning would survive a scary last minute as the Rangers went to an empty net for the extra attacker and sneak out of Madison Square Garden with a huge 3-2 victory. The Rangers have to shake their head looking at the stat sheet where they out shot Tampa 28-16 on the night, but somehow came away with no points on the night.
The Lightning would to 33-26-9 (75 pts) on the year pulling within a point of the final wild card spot held by the Toronto Maple Leafs (76 pts) and the Rangers would fall to 44-24-2 (90 pts) on the year.
The Lightning will return tomorrow night Tuesday March 14th, as they head straight to Ottawa from New York. The game can be seen locally on FOX SUN sports with a 7:30 pm puck drop.
My THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Brayden Point– Playing like a man pressed while the rest of his teammates appeared ready to mail a game in, Point scored two huge goals to include the game winner. You need games like this when your chasing one of the final playoff spots, and the young center stepped up for his club when they needed it tonight.
2. Peter Budaj– He put the team on his back and drug their lifeless corpse through two periods of play. The Rangers could have easily been up 2 or 3 goals after the 1st two period, but Budaj wouldn’t allow it. He gave the Bolts a chance to win in the 3rd, and they delivered. This was a huge boost to the team’s confidence heading into the stretch, that they have two goalies capable of carrying the club on any given night.
3. Ondrej Palat– The winger hasn’t had a great year but tonight he reminded fans what he’s capable of with a beautiful assist on the game winning Brayden Point goal. If Palat can find a groove late in the season, the Bolts playoff hopes might turn into a reality.
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