The tank continues, and this one was ugly. The 5-3 final score certainly wasn’t reflective of the way this game went. The Rangers instilled hope into their fans with a sweep of their three-game Western Canada road trip, but at this point that looks like a complete fluke. Upon their return, the Blueshirts have been man-handled by the two Stanley Cup contenders they have faced, those being Winnipeg and Tampa Bay.
Following a slew of disappointing performances, the Lightning came out firing. Steven Stamkos’ goal that occurred just 20 seconds after puck-drop was voided due to a high-stick, but just over a minute later Cedric Paquette put the Bolts on the board, as he tapped a rebound past Henrik Lundqvist. About five minutes later it was Adam Erne who found the back of the net, beating Lundqvist on a partial-breakaway. The momentum continued early on in the second period when Kevin Hayes was caught out of position, resulting in Anthony Cirelli’s second NHL goal, on a perfect deflection of Mikhail Sergachev’s slap-shot. 3-0 Tampa.
The Rangers would answer, as Ryan Spooner notched his 11th tally of the year, firing the rebound of Kevin Hayes’ shot past Andrei Vasilevsky. The Blueshirts’ response was followed by two more goals from the Bolts, these coming from Chris Kunitz and Tyler Johnson respectively. Kunitz’s goal led to a goaltender swap, in which Lundqvist was replaced by Alexandar Georgiev. Henrik faced 31 shots in a period and a half, and did not look particularly happy, as he headed straight to the locker room after getting the ax. Lundqvist couldn’t be faulted for the first three goals, but the fourth came on a costly misplay behind his net. Johnson’s goal came against Georgiev.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) March 9, 2018
In the final frame, the Blueshirts found the back of the net twice, which resulted in a warped final score. Tampa Bay laid back and just tried to protect their lead, and the Rangers capitalized on that flawed strategy. Early on in the period, Mats Zuccarello scored his 11th goal of the season, converting on a foolish line-change by Mikhail Sergachev. With just 3:21 remaining, a nice deflection from Kevin Hayes narrowed the deficit to two. Recording a marker on Hayes’ goal, was one of the Rangers’ trade deadline acquisitions: Rob O’Gara. The assist marked O’Gara’s first NHL point.
The only one of the 4 active ex-Rangers to find his way onto the score sheet, was Ryan Callahan. The former captain of the Blueshirts posted a helper on Paquette’s tally.
One of the few Blueshirt bright spots included the continued success of Ryan Spooner and Kevin Hayes. Tonight they had a goal apiece, but Spooner added 2 assists, and Hayes notched one of his own. These two are absolutely on fire! Since Spooner’s arrival on Broadway, the versatile forward has tallied 10 points in only 6 games. Hayes’ streaky play began on February 9th, as he has recorded 14 points in the 14 games since then. Additionally, the Blueshirt Faithful has to admire the never give up mentality that Alain Vigneault’s squad continues to display. Despite their deficit throughout the contest, the Boys in Blue played hard until the final whistle. However, perhaps the greatest consequence that came out of tonight’s debacle, was the injury to Chris Kreider. The Rangers’ game-breaker recently returned after a long absence due to a blood clot, and he was held out following the first period for precautionary reasons. Kreider took a hard hit from Jake Dotchin in the early stages of the game, so it looks like he could be nursing an upper-body injury.
The rubber match between these two teams is on March 30, when J.T. Miller, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh make their return to Madison Square Garden. On Saturday night the Rangers finish off their short trip to the Sunshine State, as they take on the Florida Panthers (7:00 PM, MSG).
Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17