Same scenario; better result.
For the second time in two nights, the Lightning were faced with the task of protecting a one-goal lead late in the third period on the road against a desperate Metropolitan Division foe looking to secure some points and gain some ground in the crowed Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Tonight, unlike last night, the Lightning were able to close things out -- even though they took a few untimely penalties in the third period yet again.
The first period saw the Lightning get out to a much better start than in recent contents against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers, with extended zone time in the Rangers' end and a few looks towards Henrik Lundqvist. That didn't stop the home team from striking first, as former Lightning forward Brad Richards gave the Rags the 1-0 lead with a wrist shot in close on a feed from behind the net by Ryan Callahan.
The play began harmlessly enough with a defensive zone faceoff for the Bolts that they lost. A long point try was stopped by Bishop, and the Lightning defense lost track of their assignments allowing Richards to find a seam near the left circle and enough space to put one through Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, returning to the starting lineup after a four game absence due to a sprained wrist.
The remainder of the first played out quickly and uneventfully with no penalties called on either side and the teams trading shifts with possession in the opposing end without many grade A scoring chances to speak of.
Victor Hedman go the Lightning on the board with a power play goal (his 10th goal of the season) after Ryan Callahan went to the box for high-sticking Ben Bishop barely 30 seconds into the second period. Hedman had previously missed the final 8 minutes of the first after getting tangled up with Brian Boyle and falling awkwardly into the boards. He briefly remained on the bench at the end of the first before heading to the locker room while favoring is right arm or shoulder. The shoulder looked just fine, however, on a seeing-eye slap shot through traffic that beat Lundqvist cleanly and tied the game at 1-1.
Just 9 seconds later off the ensuing center ice faceoff, Tom Pyatt won the draw back to Radko Gudas at his own blue line who snapped a hard pass through the neutral zone to a waiting Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov split Rangers defensemen Michael del Zotto and John Moore for a clean breakaway. He then put a quick shoulder fake on Lundqvist before calming sliding the puck 5-hole to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.
That's the score the Lightning would carry into the final frame, the second straight night with a 2-1 lead on the road and another opportunity for two points in regulation. The Lightning showed some of the ill effects of the fatigue of back-to-back games in the third as the Rangers threw everything they could at the Lightning end trying to even up the score. The Bolts did everything they could to hold on as the Rangers outshot the Bolts 11-6 in the final twenty minutes and out-attempted them 28-10:
So the Bolts essentially clung to the ropes in closing out the Rangers, who mustered a 28-10 advantage in attempts in the final frame.— Bolt Statistics (@BoltStatistics) January 15, 2014
Like last night, the Lightning also handed out two late power plays to the home team, nearly giving away more points in regulation. Alex Killorn's tripping penalty with less than 5 minutes to go was particularly boneheaded for a normally smart, disciplined player, but the Lightning penalty kill bailed him out and preserved the two points in the standings for the Bolts as they get ready to return home to Tampa for a pair of games on Thursday and Saturday.
- Coupled with the 4-3 loss by the Boston Bruins to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bolts are now again tied for the Atlantic Division lead with the B's. Each team has 60 points, though Boston does still hold a game in hand. Montreal also lost 4-1 to the Devils in regulation, putting the Lightning 3 points ahead of their nearest Atlantic Division foe aside from Boston, and 9 points ahead of the two Eastern Conference wild card spots currently held by the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers with 51 points each.
- Ben Bishop returned to game action and went ahead and laughed in the face of regression, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for a .971 save percentage that will actually increase his season save percentage of .935. Some of it was undoubtedly puck luck, with New York failing to bury their chances, but Bishop was (once again) in good position all night, made good reads, and stopped everything he could and some he probably shouldn't have. Eventually his numbers will come down. They have to. But for now, CHECKMATE.
- Not that you needed it, but further proof that RTSS in general are garbage and that the official statskeeper at MSG is Homer Simpson: the Rangers were credited with 15 takeaways. The Lightning? Just 3. Anyone with eyes could tell you New York wasn't picking Tampa's pocket that much, as the puck moved back and forth throughout much of the night until the end when Tampa understandably started to pack it in and try to hang on for the win.
- The normally steadfast puck possession line of Alex Killorn-Valterri Filppula-Teddy Purcell was manhandled in terms of on-ice shot attempts by the entire Rangers lineup, each finshing with <35% Corsi For. Part of that is score effects in the third period, as the line saw of ton of ice in the third while protecting the lead, but even in extreme circumstances you'd like your ace possession line to do better than less than a third of all shot attempts.
- Richard Panik drew back into the lineup for the first time since 1/7 at Winnipeg, in part because Nate Thompson was out with the flu. Panik skated 12:21 mostly on the 4th line and had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot to go alone with a 57.1% Corsi For, as the Lightning bottom line continues to fare well against opposition 4ths.