Game #51: Strong third not enough for Rangers in tough 3-2 loss to Lightning

Sometimes, the effort is good enough. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always net the end result. Ask the Rangers following a tough 3-2 home loss to the Lightning tonight.

Considering how they also played in a 1-0 shutout defeat to the Flyers earlier this week, you can make the argument that they could be 3-0-0 since the break. Instead, their only win came on Thursday over the Devils by a count of 4-3- highlighted by Mika Zibanejad’s hat trick. All three games have been decided by a goal. The Rangers only have two points out of six to show for it.

That’s how it goes. Playing for the second time in two nights without top finisher Brayden Point (lower body injury), the Lightning used a good spurt in the second period to pull ahead of the Rangers by three. They got goals from Erik Cernak (first of career) and Steven Stamkos 4:52 apart to turn a one goal lead into three before the halfway point of the contest.

Yanni Gourde scored the lone goal in a even first. It came on a broken play with former Ranger Ryan McDonagh setting it up. A bad bounce came right to Gourde for his 13th at 6:51. Tampa Bay only had six shots while the Blueshirts had eight. It didn’t matter. They held the 1-0 lead.

A bad stretch for the Rangers allowed the number one overall Bolts to score twice. Cernak got his first NHL goal off a feed from ex-Ranger Ryan Callahan. It was a well executed odd man rush by the Lightning checking unit. After taking a Cedric Paquette feed, Callahan found the open trailer Cernak for a good shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead. Filip Chytil was late on the coverage which allowed Cernak to celebrate his first goal.

The third Lightning tally was a terrific all around play from three of the game’s best players. With the Rangers’ fourth line caught out, leading scorer Nikita Kucherov flew through the zone before finding Victor Hedman up top. With the Rangers scrambling, Hedman passed for a open Stamkos, who wasted no time releasing his 28th high to the short side past Lundqvist’s glove at 8:33.

Despite trailing by three, there was zero quit from the Blueshirts. They started to come back thanks to the sizzling top line that continues to shine. Having entered play with 36 points in their last six games, the cohesive trio of Chris Kreider, Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello connected again with 3:43 left to cut the deficit to two. Zibanejad dropped for Zuccarello, who took his time before firing a laser past Tampa backup Louis Domingue for his ninth.

From that point, it was up to Domingue to carry the Bolts to victory. Similar to Flyers journeyman Anthony Stolarz on Tuesday, he faced a ton of shots and scoring chances the rest of the way. The veteran was up to the challenge stopping 31 of 33 Rangers shots including 15 of 16 in a busy third period.

The only goal that got the Garden hosts within one came on a very good transition play scored by Kevin Hayes (first in seven games). On a power play, Zuccarello’s back pass went out of the zone to Lundqvist, who wisely pushed the puck back up to Zibanejad, catching the Lightning in a change. Not known for his stick handling, the good pass by Lundqvist allowed Zibanejad to come in and draw two Bolts. He then made a excellent backhand saucer pass across for Hayes’ 11th at 6:49. It was Lundqvist’s 26th assist. For some reason, NBC seemed to think he passed all-time leader John Vanbiesbrouck. But I just checked Hockey-Reference.Com. They have Beezer for 28 assists as a Ranger. Did MSG make a mistake along with NBC?

In any event, they had plenty of opportunities to tie the game. They outshot the weary Lightning 16-4. But Domingue wouldn’t allow another one to get past him. His best save came when he robbed Kreider point blank with Lundqvist pulled. I’m not sure how he got it. Kreider looked like he had the tying goal only to watch helplessly as Domingue was able to get a piece of it with his shoulder.

Lundqvist may not have been too busy, but did rob former teammate Callahan on a mini break. After Marc Staal lost an edge, Callahan retrieved a loose puck and went to his bread and butter move. He looked to have Lundqvist dead to rights, but somehow Henrik got just enough of Callahan’s forehand tuck to kick it out on the goal line for a whistle.

It’s too bad it didn’t result in at least a point. The Rangers deserved better in this one. But that’s how the cookie crumbles. They’re going to need some secondary scoring to help out the Zibanejad line. It didn’t happen on Saturday.


3rd 🌟 Steven Stamkos, Lightning (28th goal for game-winner)

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (2 primary assists to continue his roll)

1st 🌟 Louis Domingue, Lightning (31 saves including 15 of 16 in 3rd)

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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