Going into their short stint in Florida, the Rangers were a confident bunch looking towards sweeping the two games against weak opposition and gaining ground on the Eastern Conference leaders. But the brief southern sojourn turned out to be a disaster. After a disappointing loss to the Panthers on Friday night, the Blueshirts figured to regroup and take care of business versus the last place Tampa Bay Lightning, even though they had won two straight.
Never count on anything with the Rangers this season. They came to Tampa flat and lifeless, and the Lightning easily defeated them 3-0. If Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t superb, the final score would have been far uglier. With no points earned in the Sunshine State, the Rangers better forget about contending for the conference lead and concentrate on solidifying a playoff spot. With just ten games to go, their postseason position is not locked in; the Bruins, Flyers and Sabres are all within reach of the same three spots.
First star of the game Mike Smith (acquired from the Dallas Stars in late February) made 20 saves for his third shutout, but he was not the sole reason for Tampa’s victory. The Rangers total of 20 shots-on-goal was their second lowest thus far this season. Lundqvist stopped 27 shots and was not only busier; he was sharper than his counterpart in a losing cause.
After a scoreless and dull first period, the Rangers put on one of their worst 20 minute efforts of the season in the second period. They managed just four pathetic shots (the first one didn’t register until 14 minutes had expired) and trailed 1-0 when Alexandre Picard put in a rebound with only 47 seconds left in the frame. Lundqvist had no chance on the play.
Martin St. Louis scored a power-play goal on another rebound at 6:40 to double the Lightning’s lead. Again, Lundqvist was left helpless and the Rangers were in too big a hole given the lack of desire being exhibited. An empty-netter by Michel Ouellet at 19:02 ended the scoring. It was as bad as it gets for diehard Rangers’ fans. How could everything unravel so quickly?
The Blueshirts have a tough week coming up, so whatever happened in Florida better be addressed immediately. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in town on Tuesday night.