Rangers don’t back down from Lightning in a hard fought victory

Emotions were running high at 33rd and 7th. Whenever the Rangers and Lightning get together, the games are interesting. Ever since battling the former champs in a closely fought Eastern Conference Final last year, there’s a rivalry between the two teams.

After having split the first two games, the Rangers got the better of the Lightning in a hard fought 6-3 victory on home ice. The win had a lot of everything. It was hockey the way it should be played.

If you were anticipating a tight checking, low-scoring goalie duel between two of the game’s best, you were way off. In a wild first period, the Blueshirts and Bolts combined for four goals, 20 shots, and 18 penalty minutes, including a spirited bout between Ben Harpur and Pat Maroon.

Instead, the action was fast and furious. Able to grab early momentum due to a flat start from their opponent, the Rangers jumped all over the Lightning. Taking full advantage of a Steven Stamkos slashing minor on Vincent Trocheck, the power play went to work.

With Vladimir Tarasenko elevated to the top power play unit in a game, they skated without the injured Patrick Kane (lower-body), his shot from the point was tipped in by Chris Kreider for the game’s first goal at 6:13. The goal allowed Kreider to move into sole possession of fifth place on the Rangers’ franchise all-time goal list, passing Vic Hadfield. He wasn’t finished.

Before the Bolts awakened from a malaise, Kaapo Kakko scored for a third consecutive game. On a good read from K’Andre Miller, he sent Filip Chytil and Kakko in on a two-on-one. After receiving the pass from Chytil in the right circle, Kakko didn’t hesitate. He took the shot and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy far side for his 17th at 7:41.

It was one of the rare times we’ve seen Kakko shoot the puck. He often will skate around with it and try to make a play. This was a welcome change for the former 2019 second pick. It showed more confidence. Hopefully, that positive trend continues for a player who’s playing some of his best hockey. He’s up to four goals and an assist over the last six games.

With Vasilevskiy a little bit off his game along with teammates, Tyler Motte took advantage by sneaking a low percentage shot from a sharp angle through the two-time Stanley Cup champion. It was a good forecheck shift for both Motte and Barclay Goodrow, who mostly played without Jimmy Vesey.

As he promised, if any key players needed a maintenance day, Gerard Gallant dressed 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. That meant some double shifting for players. On that particular goal, Vesey was on with his regular line mates. He doubled by moving up to the first line where he saw some time with Mika Zibanejad and Kreider.

Leading by three halfway through the period, the Rangers let the Lightning back in the game. An Alexis Lafreniere high-sticking minor on Ross Colton handed the Bolts a power play. Like the Blueshirts did earlier, they cashed in on the five-on-four.

After a Nikita Kucherov pass up top, Mikhail Sergachev took a shot that the gritty Alex Killorn neatly redirected in to cut the deficit to 3-1. The goal came only 19 seconds following Motte’s tally. That’s how untimely the Lafreniere penalty was. Those are the ones they have to avoid starting in two weeks. Momentum can swing very suddenly in the postseason.

There were some casualties during the game. That included Rangers captain Jacob Trouba. Well known for dishing it out, this time, he was on the receiving end of a tough hit from Corey Perry. Perry caught Trouba from the side. Unable to brace for the hit, he landed awkwardly on his face. He exited the game.

At the moment, it didn’t look too serious. Trouba didn’t need help skating off to the locker room. However, he didn’t return. Maybe they were playing it safe. They had seven defensemen dressed. Harpur took a regular shift. We’ll find out more when the Rangers visit St. Louis later tonight.

The Lightning picked up their game. Kucherov missed wide on a scoring chance. Igor Shesterkin denied Ross Colton. He made some key stops throughout the contest to notch his 36th win.

Even Panarin delivered a hit. He got a good check on Tanner Jeannot. Usually, it’s Jeannot physically involved. He wasn’t last night, which was strange considering the edginess the game had.

Late in the period, Pat Maroon instigated a fight with Harpur. After getting a shot in to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct, he and Harpur traded blows. The dust-up gave the Rangers a power play.

However, Vasilevskiy steadied. He made three saves, including a pair on Kakko. Despite giving up six goals, he kept his team in the game.

Miller accidentally got his stick up on Kucherov to give Tampa a power play with six seconds remaining. It carried over to the second period. The Rangers were able to kill the penalty successfully.

As expected, the Lightning got the next goal to make things interesting. Darren Raddysh caught a break when his shot deflected off a Ranger in front by Shesterkin for his first career NHL goal. They later changed it to Brandon Hagel, who was in the area. Then, they switched it back to Raddysh.

But before the Bolts could get comfortable, the Rangers replied back only 15 seconds later. On a misread by Sergachev, Lafreniere pushed the puck ahead for Motte. In on Vasilevskiy, he snuck a wrist shot by the former Vezina winner for his second of the game.

It was his third career multi-goal game. He’s got five goals and four assists for nine points since returning to the Rangers. Terrific secondary scoring by a player Chris Drury should’ve kept last summer.

Following a penalty kill of an Adam Fox slashing minor on the ornery Perry, Shesterkin made two straight stops on Anthony Cirelli. The key two-way pivot would leave the game with an injury. The Bolts rely on him to be their shutdown center. It was his strong defensive work that neutralized Zibanejad, Kreider, and Frank Vatrano last year.

Prior to his exit, Cirelli helped set up Hagel for a goal that made it 4-3 a little over halfway through the game. On the play, Cirelli broke in and made a strong move on Shesterkin, who made a terrific save. However, Hagel followed up the play by stuffing in a loose puck for his 28th.

Chaos ensued when a late arriving Killorn took a swat at Shesterkin in the crease. Whether intentional or not, it didn’t look good. Even if he thought the puck wasn’t completely in, it looked like a dirty play. Some felt it was a spear. It’s hard to judge because we don’t know what Killorn’s intentions were.

The puck was on Shesterkin’s pad with him in the net. It was very close to the goal line. If you give Killorn the benefit of the doubt, maybe he couldn’t tell if it was a goal. His late arrival and swat at our goalie led to a skirmish behind the net. Killorn was the target of Ryan Lindgren, who looked okay in his return. Cirelli was third man in. Killorn got two for slashing. Lindgren received two for roughing along with Cirelli. That put the Rangers on a power play.

Following a video review, it was determined that Hagel scored. That made it a one-goal game with 8:23 left in the second. It definitely isn’t a play you see often. Especially with the puck lying on Shesterkin.

Following the goal, the Blueshirts were unable to convert on the man-advantage. Vasilevskiy made three saves, including a pair on Panarin, who was more aggressive, shooting the puck. He also stopped Zibanejad. Kreider missed on a one-timer high and wide.

The Lightning nearly tied it afterward. There were some close calls with Point, who couldn’t quite get number 49 despite a few dangerous chances. Shesterkin also stopped Stamkos.

With less than four minutes to go, Trocheck went with Perry off a face-off. Perry asked for the fight. Trocheck obliged. He took some shots but hung in there. He’s a gamer. Exactly the kind of high character player you want on your side in a series.

Looking for the hat trick, Motte continued to shoot the puck. He had a shot shutdown by Vasilevskiy. Motte led all shooters with seven shots on goal.

With Trouba in the locker room, Braden Schneider did his best imitation of the captain. He stood up at his blue line and leveled Nick Paul with a clean hit that sent him down. With the crowd pumped up, Ross Colton responded by jumping in for Paul. He instigated a fight with Schneider, who was a willing combatant. Schneider and Colton received five for fighting. But Colton got an extra 12 for instigator and misconduct. The right call.

On another power play, Zibanejad was stopped by Vasilevskiy. The five-on-four carried over to the third. Although they didn’t connect, Vasilevskiy was forced into a few tough saves. He got over to make an acrobatic stop to deny Kreider. After a video review during a stoppage confirmed the obvious, play continued.

The Tampa netminder made other big saves, including on Motte and Trocheck. He’d also deny Chytil. For a while, it felt like those saves would eventually lead to the Lightning tying it. But it never came.

Following a crucial stop from Shesterkin on Stamkos to keep the Rangers ahead, Fox had Zibanejad all set up, but his backhand banked off the goalpost. The puck took a favorable bounce right to Kreider, who buried his 35th with 8:22 left.

The goal gave him 264 for his Rangers career. He trails Andy Bathgate by eight goals for fourth on the all-time franchise goal scoring list. As he inches closer to some of the biggest names in team history, perhaps one day, when his career is over, he’ll have his number 20 retired.

A Kucherov trip of Kakko led to Panarin wiring one by Vasilevskiy for the Rangers’ second power play goal. After Zibanejad had a shot saved, he and Fox got the puck over to Panarin. Instead of passing, he ripped a laser high, short side off the post, and in for number 26. That put the game away.

Shesterkin would make a nice save to deny Point on a backhand. That was really the last chance the Bolts had.

Motte went for the hat trick. He took a backhand shot from the inside that Vasilevskiy hung with. That came with over a minute remaining.

As the crowd cheered, the animosity between the two sides wasn’t over. On the final play, as the buzzer sounded, Harpur went after Perry again. It was a fight he wanted. He did well even getting a takedown. Considering how ornery Perry is, and with his hit having knocked Trouba out of the game, it was a message delivered.

That it came from the seventh defenseman, who’d already fought Maroon, showed how much character this team has. They aren’t backing down. There were a lot of words exchanged during the game. It got chippy.

Not only did the Rangers come out on top. But it was nice to see them respond to the Lightning. It was an exciting game. One TNT had to love. Judging from the reactions of Henrik Lundqvist and Anson Carter, they definitely loved it.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe the game didn’t mean a whole lot. The Rangers are pretty much locked into a 2/3 battle with the Devils. But they gained two points. They’re up to 103 with four remaining, including tonight at St. Louis.

The Devils have 106. They play the Blue Jackets at home. They trail first place Carolina by three. The Hurricanes have one extra game left. They’re in Nashville later. The Predators are very much alive thanks to Calgary defeating Winnipeg 3-1 is regulation last night. They should be desperate.

The wildcard race will continue on Thursday night. All five teams are in action. That includes the Islanders at home for the Lightning. They could catch a break. It’s likely Tampa will start backup Brian Elliott, giving Vasilevskiy the night off. The Panthers host the Senators. Ottawa has to win.

The Sabres are at Detroit. They still have six games left. Win and get help. Anything is possible. They’ll be scoreboard watching. The Wild visit the Penguins. Buffalo has two games at hand on the other four teams. But they probably need 11 points. I think 92 gets you in.

We’ll see what happens. As for the Rangers, they’ve got the Blues. Figure Jaroslav Halak to give Shesterkin the night off. I wouldn’t expect Kane to play. He sounds pretty banged up. Considering how he’s looked, the hip is probably bothering him. Will they shut him down until the playoffs? I have no idea.

Maybe Trouba sits out. They can be cautious. The game isn’t significant. They have six D. We could be looking at another 11 forward alignment. If Trouba can’t go, they’ll play a man short.


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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