Setting aside all the hemming and hawing about Martin St. Louis, and Ryan Callahan, and the trade that saw them moved between these two teams, the Lightning are probably a little disappointed that they don't get to face their former captain again this year. The Bolts finish up the 2014-15 season against New York with a 3-0 record and 15 total goals scored after putting a 5-spot on Henrik Lundqvist and adding an empty netter in the final minute.
The first period was a wide-open game with both teams trading extended jaunts in the others' end. Tampa Bay struck first with a deflection from Tyler Johnson beating Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead just over 6 minutes into the game, but the Rangers answered quickly to tie the game at one with a goal from Kevin Hayes in front. Carl Hagelin eluded Radko Gudas behind the Lightning net and fed the unmarked Hayes for the tally.
For most of the first period, the Lightning struggled to generate meaningful offensive possession except for when the Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov forward unit were on the ice. That trio was the only one with long forays in and around Lundqvist's net until a long breakout pass from (who else?) Victor Hedman freed Brett Connolly into the offensive zone one-on-one with Marc Staal. A nifty hesitation move and a wicked shot through Staal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission in spite of a 12-8 shots on goal deficit.
The Rangers came into the second period really pressing offensively, getting through the neutral zone with ease and keeping the puck down low at every opportunity. They tied the game again, 2-2, with Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos caught deep behind the play as the Blueshirts broke out with Derrick Brassard leading a 3-on-2. He outwaited the entire Lightning defense, embarrassing Matt Carle and flipping the puck to an open Jesper Fast for a tap-in goal to tie things up.
That's when the penalties started to hurt the Bolts; first, an offensive zone tripping call on Kucherov that put New York on the man advantage, then, a hooking call on Cedric Paquette who tugged at Brassard's hands to put the Rangers up two men. They moved the puck on the 5-on-3 with ease and, though Ben Bishop made a few big saves to try and kill the penalty, eventually scored on a rebound goal from Martin St. Louis.
Consecutive penalties to Kevin Hayes and Ryan McDonagh gave the Bolts a 5-on-3 of their own, and while they moved the puck around trying to find a seam, they didn't fire much in the way of threatening scoring chances towards Henrik Lundqvist. Fortunately, after both penalties expired, the Rangers were gassed and couldn't clear the puck. That allowed Matt Carle to sneak into the slot and lift a wrist shot over Lundqvist's shoulder, somehow, to tie the game 3-3 heading into the final period.
The early part of the third was all Tampa -- a very soft call on Martin St. Louis put the Lightning on the power play where Brett Connolly cashed in on his second of the night to give the Bolts a 4-3 lead. Tyler Johnson added his second tally of the night a few minutes later at even strength to extend the lead to 5-3 with 13 minutes left. The two goal lead didn't seem to affect the Bolts, however, who continued to press and attack and possess the puck, snuffing out any opportunities for New York to counterattack. Ondrej Palat took the puck away from John Moore with less than thirty seconds remaining and scored from near center-ice to ice this one, 6-3.
- In three games vs. the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist, the Lightning have scored a whopping 15 goals. The King allowed 14 of those goals on 79 total shots faced (.823 SV%).
- Lundqvist allowed 5 goals on just 20 shots tonight, as the Rangers did do a good job of carrying play through long stretches and forcing the Lightning to the outside:
McDonagh, Lundqvist take personal responsibility for mistakes and loss. Lundqvist points out quality of chances but says has to make saves— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 2, 2014
- This might have been Brett Connolly's best game in the NHL ... ever. Even as he was swapped with Cedric Paquette and moved away from Valtteri Filppula to skate down on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow, the kid was simply fantastic. He's a very adept puck handler and his shot is sneaky-accurate, as Lundqvist found out. Credit to Victor Hedman for the breakout pass on his first marker, but Connolly did a lot of work to beat Marc Staal and score. He followed that with a nice rip from the slot on the power play for his 4th goal of the season.
- Connolly nearly had a hat trick, to boot -- he put another puck in behind Lundqvist with a very clearly high stick. Still, the hand-eye coordination and stick skills are there. If he turns a corner that's really good news for the Lightning moving forward.
- There's something still very, very wrong with the Lightning special teams play. On the penalty kill, they give up chances and shots much too easily, and on the power play, sometimes downright refuse to shoot the puck. Fortunately, the stellar 5v5 play is enough (for now).
- The Bolts play again tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres. While they've been something of a laughingstock in terms of competitive play, they'll likely get to face Evgeni Nabokov, who hasn't put up a save percentage north of .900 since October 21. Buffalo is 17th in the NHL in 5v5 shooting percentage. So tomorrow is anything but a gimme. Still, resting Bishop ought to be a priority. If you can't trust Nabby to come in on a back-to-back against Buffalo, why'd you sign him at all?