Zibanejad’s power play goal with 16 seconds left gives Rangers well deserved one-goal win over Lightning, Blueshirts sweep season series from champs, Bruins and Panthers make big moves

For most of the night, the Rangers were powerless against the Lightning penalty kill. Given one more opportunity late in regulation, they made the most of it. Mika Zibanejad’s power play goal with 16 seconds left in regulation gave the Rangers a well deserved 2-1 win over the Lightning.

Among the 19,092 at Amalie Arena, there were plenty of Ranger fans heard throughout a very competitive playoff caliber game. When Artemi Panarin fed Zibanejad for the game-winner at 19:44 of the third period, they made a lot of noise in the Lightning’s home arena.

A pretty big moment for a younger team still learning how to win these tight checking games. Unlike Thursday’s crusher, they won this one with their own gut wrenching goal in enemy territory. In doing so, it allowed them to sweep the season series from the champs. That is a confidence boost.

Even more important, the two points kept them within two of the second place Penguins, who defeated the Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night. They needed the win to get some breathing room from the Capitals. With 20 games remaining, the Rangers have 83 points. The Caps have 80 with one less game left. The two old Patrick Division rivals will meet the final game of the season on April 29 at MSG.

In besting the Lightning at their arena for the second time, the Rangers proved they could win a chippy game that featured plenty of hitting, scrums and some rough stuff. The teams combined for 66 hits and 32 penalty minutes. There were nine power plays. The Bolts going 1-for-3 by cashing theirs early. The Blueshirts finishing 1-for-6 by scoring the only one that mattered with 16 seconds to spare.

The first period was well played. It had plenty of five-on-five play and strong goaltending from Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Both showed why they’re considered the two best goalies throughout the game. Unlike the other night when he was a save short against Ilya Sorokin, Shesterkin was a save better than Vasilevskiy. In other words, he got the second goal this time to earn his 30th win of the season.

The Lightning were a bit better in the opening period. They had a territorial edge as it moved on. When the Rangers forechecked, it was the newly formed third line that did most of the work. That would be Filip Chytil, Barclay Goodrow and Dryden Hunt, who had a second straight strong game. The cohesive trio came close on one shift with a Patrik Nemeth pass for Goodrow just missing with an open net.

Victor Hedman took the game’s first penalty on a delay of game. Out came the top unit for the second ranked Blueshirts. They didn’t get much done. The Lightning were aggressive by attacking Adam Fox up top and taking away set up time. Zibanejad got off one clean shot that Vasilevskiy gloved. Fox had an attempt blocked and cleared.

Without any momentum from the five-on-four, the Rangers didn’t play their best in the first. They got eight shots on Vasilevskiy. But it was a tacky Nemeth interference minor drawn by an acting Mathieu Joseph that led to the Lightning capitalizing on their first power play.

Following a Shesterkin glove stop on Steven Stamkos from the left slot, he denied a Alex Killorn deflection on a long Hedman one-timer. But unaware where the puck was, he didn’t have it covered. That allowed the clutch Brayden Point to find the puck and jam it in for a 1-0 Lightning lead with 3:19 remaining.

Although Gerard Gallant protested as usual, this was a clear case of the refs making the right call. Had Shesterkin had it, he would’ve let them know. He didn’t react that way. It’s not like it could be challenged. Point’s 23rd from Killorn and Hedman stood for the only goal of the period.

As it was about to end, a sloppy turnover on a miscommunication between Jacob Trouba and Zibanejad nearly cost them. But Shesterkin calmly gloved Anthony Cirelli’s last second try as the horn sounded. Had he not made the big save, it probably would’ve counted. Needless to say, that was a key moment.

Unlike the first which saw the Bolts outshoot the Rangers 16-8, the second was much better. The only issue were all the penalties. There were too many to count. It was a march to the penalty box for each side. That meant less even strength play.

After Goodrow drew a hooking minor on Ross Colton, Fox took down Joseph to negate the man-advantage 49 seconds later. It was due to the way the Lightning defended. Fox wasn’t given much room all night. They took him away.

The interesting part of the second was how much busier Vasilevskiy was than Shesterkin. Despite all the ineptitude on the power play which saw the Bolts turn them powerless, the Blueshirts had the better scoring chances.

A good shift from the second line resulted in Vasilevskiy coming up with four saves. He first denied Panarin shorthanded. Then stopped Frank Vatrano. Panarin and Vatrano were stopped again by Vasilevskiy, who was proving why he’s considered the best goalie. He has a great resume. Even if the Lightning aren’t as strong, he gives them a chance this postseason.

It was the following shift that the Rangers drew even. It was the third line that created the tying goal. A pair of Chytil shots helped create the goal. On for Goodrow, who had just killed a penalty, Alexis Lafreniere made a hustle play to keep a loose puck alive. On a good play from Hunt, a pinching Trouba snuck in to tie the score at 9:25.

His 10th matched a career high set back in his rookie season at Winnipeg. It’s been the consistent play from Trouba that in my mind is the difference with the defense. He and K’Andre Miller are continuing to become a strong shutdown pair that the coaching staff can count on. Miller’s growth has been apparent. He’s more physical. Maybe Trouba has rubbed off on him.

A few minutes after Trouba’s tying goal, Pat Maroon came in behind the net and hit Shesterkin. He got around Ryan Lindgren to get position and bump into our goalie. That immediately got a strong response from Lindgren, who exchanged punches with Maroon. The officials did a good job assessing an extra minor to Maroon for interference. He received four minutes while Lindgren got two for roughing.

Instead of getting anything off the Maroon minor penalty, they did zilch. It was the Lightning who attacked the Rangers up top. They had no room. It resulted in easy clears down the ice for Tampa. It was frustrating.

So too were the ridiculous camera angles ESPN/ABC used. How many different angles does the television audience need? They had so many strange looks that it made me wonder if they were aiming to make the viewers drunk. If I wanted to do that, I’d have some wine or go out and get a couple of cold ones. It really has become nauseating. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Stick with what works.

The hitting continued. Nobody passed up a chance to finish a check. The best one came from Hedman, who got a clean shoulder on Goodrow earlier in the period while he was clearing a puck while shorthanded. He got right back up and into the play. When there was a stoppage, he smiled and joked with his former teammate. It was a great open ice hit.

Hunt continued to be effective. He got a good shot on Vasilevskiy that the elite Bolts’ netminder stopped. A couple of minutes later, Zibanejad took away a puck in the neutral zone and drew a Killorn hooking minor with under 60 seconds left in the second.

Although Ryan Strome got a long shot on Vasilevskiy with a few seconds left, it was a broken record. I had already wondered if they should just decline the power play. Funny how that works sometimes.

After holding a 13-5 shots edge in a better second, the Rangers were all even. Business still was to be settled. What lied ahead was worth waiting for.

Even as I flipped to see Saint Peter’s shock Murray State to become only the third 15 seed to make the Sweet 16. A great story in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Not bad for a bunch of scrappy kids from Jersey City. Hopefully, they can keep it going and make history.

The third period was more closely fought. It was intense. Shots were at a premium. So were chances. Tight checking was on display. So too were fisticuffs.

Ryan Reaves didn’t let Maroon off the hook. Just after four minutes had passed, he challenged the Lightning touch guy to a fight. It was due to the hit on Shesterkin. The two squared off at center ice. They danced for a while before engaging. Maroon tried to use his left arm to hold Reaves, who got in a few rights to earn the decision.

Then it was over. That part of business had been taken care of by Reaves. As good teammate as any Blueshirt could ask for. He made Maroon accountable for his actions. Just as Lindgren did. That’s an ingredient this team lacked under the previous regime. They won’t back down.

As the physicality and defensive minded style took shape, there wasn’t as much operating space. Veteran checker Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare was able to get free and fire a backhand that Shesterkin swallowed up. That was a big save.

On Tampa’s next shift, this time he denied both Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. For the period, Shesterkin made eight saves. He was focused.

With over eight minutes left, Lindgren got a tricky shot ticketed for the short side off. But a sharp Vasilevskiy made the key stop to keep the game tied.

When there wasn’t hitting, you had each team making critical blocks. That’s the kind of game it was. Very fun to watch. These are exactly the style of games we’ll see in six weeks. It won’t change when they visit the even better Hurricanes at 6 PM Sunday before sunset. Isn’t that refreshing to say?

For a five-minute stretch, the Rangers didn’t even have one shot attempt. The Lightning were in control. They got four shots through on Shesterkin, who was equal to the task.

Finally, a skating Chris Kreider was able to get the attention of the refs when rugged Tampa defenseman Erik Cernak hi-sticked him with 2:15 remaining. With the Lightning bench giving it to him, he told them he got the penalty called. Flat out honesty from the unofficial captain.

Gallant used his timeout to rest his vaunted number one unit. It didn’t look like it would matter. A Lightning face-off win and a clear sent them into retreat mode. It really felt like this would need overtime to decide.

But following a neutral zone face-off that Zibanejad controlled over Cirelli, they were finally able to get set up. After he had a shot blocked, the puck came right back to him. Panarin then made a great cross-ice pass for Zibanejad right into the wheelhouse. He didn’t miss.

His 25th of the season (13th on the power play) just beat a still moving Vasilevskiy, who almost got it. Had he, it would’ve been miraculous. Fortunately, Zibanejad was able to celebrate the clutch game-winner with happy teammates. That included Kreider, who was positioned in front when the goal was scored.

That last penalty doomed the Lightning. They were undisciplined. It finally cost them. Even with new acquisition Brandon Hagel added to the core of Stamkos, Kucherov, Point, Hedman, Cirelli, Killorn and Ondrej Palat, the Bolts only beat Shesterkin once. They didn’t create a lot of offense for a team with their talent.

Credit goes to the Rangers, who really played a strong game. They had one period where they allowed too many shots. But really buckled down. Over the final two periods, they outshot the Lightning 19-13. They won a hard-nosed defensive minded playoff style game.

That Trouba quote is exactly right. These are the games they have to play. Similar to what he said after the 2-1 loss to the Islanders. If they can play this way with that edge, then they will have a better chance to do something in the postseason.

It was a good win. A step in the right direction. Now, it’s off to Raleigh for a big divisional match-up with first place Carolina. The last time they played, it was brutal. Hopefully this time will be much better.

The final game before Monday’s big deadline is another good test. Might it determine if GM Chris Drury makes another deal? We’ll know soon enough.

On the trade front, there were three big deals made yesterday. The Bruins went all in on left defenseman Hampus Lindholm acquiring him from Anaheim for Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, a 2022 first round pick along with second round picks in ’23 and ’24. They then extended Lindholm, whose expiring contract was 50 percent retained by the Ducks.

The Ducks weren’t done sending energizer Nicolas Deslauriers to the Wild in exchange for a third round pick in 2023. A good pickup for the very heavy Wild. But a nice return for new Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek.

Finally, Claude Giroux was sent to the Panthers as expected. With a full no-movement clause, the former Flyers captain who was honored for playing his 1,000th career game, had to approve any trade. He wanted to be in Florida over Colorado. That meant the Flyers didn’t get back as much.

The trade is Giroux with minor leaguers Connor Bunnaman and German Rubtsov along with a 2024 fifth round pick for forward Owen Tippett, a conditional 2024 first round pick and a ’23 third round pick.

If I were a Flyer fan, I’d be upset. They had no real bargaining power. Tippett should become a good player. But what are the conditions on the ’24 first round pick? Do the Panthers have to win the Cup or reach it?

Whatever the case, Florida made some serious upgrades. They went all in on Ben Chiarot to solidify their back end and got the very experienced and still productive Giroux for their Cup push. First Round Picks Optional for the Cats.

There will be more to come with over a day left. Will Marc-Andre Fleury find a new home? The Wild are rumored to be interested. Will the Rangers add one more piece or are they satisfied with Vatrano knowing eventually both Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney will return? It’s anyone’s guess.

This went a bit long. It had to. It deserved it. Just like the team deserved that one-goal win with Zibanejad the hero.

Battle Of Hudson Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad NYR scored game-winner on power play with 16 seconds left in 3rd period for 25th goal

2nd 🌟 Andrei Vasilevskiy Bolts 25 saves on 27 shots including 21/22 at even strength

1st 🌟 Igor Shesterkin NYR 28 saves on 29 shots including 24/24 at even strength for 30th win of season

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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