Bolted In


Antti Raanta can only look on as the Rangers fell to the Lightning and Brayden Point 3-2 in a very winnable game that saw them slip to 15-18-2 when out-shooting opponents. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

With the all too predictable March blizzard after daylight savings having started up an hour ago, I guess we really are Bolted In. Hence the appropriate title given the Rangers losing a winnable game against a shorthanded Lightning 3-2 at where else but MSG. Well, at least they’re making sure they won’t have home ice since they suck at it.

If you can’t beat a Tampa team minus Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette, then why bother showing up for these “home games.” I couldn’t even tell you some of the names on the Lightning roster who were among the 18 skaters. A game in which they dominated the first period 13-3 in shots but wound up tied at one. A game in which they permitted only 16 total shots but weren’t as effective the final two periods. Shots were 15-13 Rangers after one.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. As long as they wind up avoiding the 2/3 match-up in the Metro which now could be between the Caps, Pens and Blue Jackets with Washington suddenly not themselves since <ahem> “difference maker” Kevin Shattenkirk. I hope the Rangers are paying attention.

It may not matter who they draw if they can’t figure out how to defend home ice. Even if they do win away from MSG in the first round, they’ll have to win at home too to advance. The Atlantic is tightening up. Six points separate first Montreal from third Boston with Ottawa two out with two games at hand. Who knows who the Rangers will wind up with.

Having now played 70 games, they remain locked into the first wildcard sitting fourth in the Metro with 90 points. Four behind Columbus who won 5-3 over the Flyers and five behind the Caps and Pens- 4-3 shootout losers at red hot Calgary in a very entertaining game that tied them with Washington in points. But Pittsburgh has three less regulation and overtime wins. Each team has 14 left as do the Jackets, whose 42 ROW are one fewer than the Caps making them a realistic threat to win the division.

On a night when Steven Kampfer continued to impress scoring his first goal in the NHL in two years on a nice one-time blast set up by Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider (career high 48 points), they managed to lose because of some miscalculations. Take the Tampa first goal. A Lightning like strike 1:50 later with Brayden Point connecting on a power play from Nikita Kucherov (21 points in last 10) and Jonathan Drouin. The penalty on Brendan Smith wasn’t. Just a made up trip. But the penalty kill has to do a better job. Tampa is lethal on the man-advantage and proved it by converting their only chance of the first.

That was enough to settle them down. They played much better the last 40 minutes. Jon Cooper adjusted by having his guys stand up at the blue line and take away the home run pass and Rangers’ speed. The annoying Gabriel Dumont was able to deflect home a Jason Garrison shot by Antti Raanta at 5:04 of the second for a 2-1 lead.

The same Garrison lost control of the puck in his own zone leading directly to Michael Grabner slipping one past veteran Peter Budaj for his team-leading 27th unassisted at 10:22. His first goal in 10 games and already his third point since returning. He had two helpers in Sunday’s win at Detroit. Grabner makes things happen. That’s why general manager Jeff Gorton has to find a way to keep him.

There were only three penalties. Two on the Rangers and one on the Lightning. Despite Derek Stepan creating a perfect chance by faking and dishing across for a wide open Mika Zibanejad, he couldn’t bury it. Pavel Buchnevich also came away frustrated during a five-on-five shift when Zibanejad all but set him up but narrowly missed hanging his head on the bench. Rick Nash continues to create chances but never finishes. It’s become a broken record. He better figure it out soon.

Budaj made some key saves to give the Bolts the win. He finished with 26 and came through. Raanta really wasn’t at fault but allowed three goals on 16 shots. So, he wasn’t all too pleased following the game. The Lightning winner a direct result of Ryan McDonagh failing to take an open Point on the doorstep. Of course, Marc Staal got blamed for it because he gets blamed for everything. But it was the captain who didn’t check Point allowing him to tap home a Ondrej Palat feed from Kucherov for the game-winner with 6:39 left.

The Rangers were unable to tie it with Raanta pulled for an extra attacker. Tampa did a good job defending with the puck behind the net as time ran off. It was a frustrating loss. Anytime you lose to a team minus some of its best players- especially at center- it’s not positive.

So, in a game where they held a 28-16 shots edge although it was pretty misleading after a lopsided first, they lost again when out-shooting the opponent. What does that make it now? 15-18-2. But the fancy stats people are happy. They still were upset over Raanta standing on his head in a 1-0 overtime shutout win at Tampa a week ago. Maybe they can fret over how our team once again lost on home ice with 12 more shots and 14 more face-off wins (37-23).

You really can’t make it up. Can someone explain to me why Grabner, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller weren’t out at the end? They were the most effective trio. Save me the crap about how it must be Kreider, Stepan and Zuccarello. Not that they were bad. But compared to the Hayes unit, it wasn’t close.

Sometimes, you gotta deviate from your game plan. Vigneault finally used Brady Skjei with McDonagh late. That’s the only way he even gets real minutes with our top defenseman. Another game in which he didn’t play enough unless you think 16:42 in 22 shifts is good for our second best blue liner.

Tanner Glass played with the same energy he always does. He makes things happen. But I’m sure some chart person will blame him for being on for a goal against. Glass does all the little things no one else does. Finishes checks. Creates scoring chances due to his physical element. He was right in Dumont’s face when he tried to take liberties with Skjei post-whistle.

Is it the end of the world? No. They lost. Now, they get to shovel snow or whatever until the next game on Friday against Florida. Then at the Wild Saturday for another fun back-to-back.  Hopefully, they’ll give a more complete effort.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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