TAMPA, Fla – The Tampa Bay Lightning are determined to close the gap between them and the eighth and final playoff spot in the East which is currently occupied by the Winnipeg Jets. Since the embarrassing 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last weekend, Tampa Bay has increased their intensity level causing havoc on the opponent.
Against the New York Rangers, it would be no different, as the Lightning pressured the puck and was constantly throwing shots on Henrik Lundqvist trying to find a way past him.
Despite being out-shot, the Rangers found themselves with a 2-0 lead with goals from Artem Anisimov in the first period then a power play goal from Marian Gaborik in the early stages of the second. Lundqvist, who was celebrating his 30th birthday, had a busy night, stopping 27 of 31 shots he faced.
“This game was tough from start to finish,” Lundqvist said. “Yeah we had the 2-0 lead, but I don’t think we deserved the 2-0 lead. It felt like they made it tough for us all night.”
At the 7:09 mark of the second period Tom Pyatt jumpstarted Tampa Bay’s rally, and got a tying goal from Teddy Purcell less than five minutes into the final frame. Newly acquired defensemen Brian Lee set up Steven Stamkos for his league leading 45th goal, beating Lundqvist top shelf from the slot to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead just under 10 minutes to go in regulation.
“That was an unbelievable play by Brian Lee,” Stamkos said. “He’s a great defender and his offensive skills are very underrated; people just don’t know a lot about him. He had it set up all the whole way. He found me in the hole and put it on my stick. That was obviously a big goal for us and I was happy to see it go in.”
Lee finished the game with two points, three shots on goal, three hits, and was a plus one while recording 12:23 of total ice time.
The Rangers brought some added pressure in the final minutes of regulation and Brandon Dubinsky tallied the game-tying goal that sent the game into overtime. Prior to Friday night’s game, Rangers head coach John Tortorella said he would have scratched Dubinsky who has been suffering from an issue with his shoulder, but Tortorella did not have the personnel to do so.
In overtime, Ryan Malone toe-dragged his way to the top of the left face-off circle and fired a wrist shot by Lundqvist for the 4-3 win.
“We knew they played last night,” Malone said. “I don’t know if they had the same jump they would have if they hadn’t played last night. We tried to take advantage of that from the beginning; just try to wear them down, not turn over too many pucks in the neutral zone and throw the puck at the net and get some traffic there. I thought we did a good job and that’s all we wanted.”
Mathieu Garon stopped 16 of the 19 Rangers shots he faced and improved to 11-3-2 over his last 16 starts for Tampa Bay. Defensemen Keith Aulie made his debut with the Lightning Friday night. He tallied three hits, two penalty minutes, one blocked shot and a plus-one rating.
Tampa Bay’s win over New York moved them within four points of the eighth spot and are just six back of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead. The Lightning will wrap up the second half of a back-to-back against the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night at the RBC Center at 7pm.