October 30th - Tampa Bay 1, New York 6
“Not to hit the panic button, but things aren’t pretty right now. A six-game road trip was going to be tough as is, but now the Lightning’s resilience will be tested. This is not only the end of back-to-backs during a stretch of three games in four nights in the New York metro area, but now there’s a streak. A winless streak of two, in which the Bolts have scored just two goals while giving up six.”
“Instead of sticking with a lineup that had been playing fairly well despite back to back losses to the Canadiens and Devils, they [the Lightning coaching staff] elected to make big changes to the defensive assignments and the team immediately had its worst defensive performance of the season.”
While it might have been their worst defensive performance to that point, the Lightning had a few challengers to that throne ahead of them (cough..Columbus..cough).
March 6th - Tampa Bay 0, New York 1 (OT)
“The Rangers aren’t going to be pushed around, especially by a bubble team that has been plagued with inconsistent play. The Lightning have to play with a sense of urgency that seems to have eluded them lately.”
“The temptation this time of year is to assign the phrase “playoff-level intensity” to any good game, but that’s because often that label is accurate, such as in tonight’s game between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.”
The Lightning had dug themselves into such a hole that every game from the middle of February on seemed to have playoff implications. By the beginning of March they had scratched and clawed their way back into the playoff picture and the meeting with the Rangers was a good test of where they were at as a team. They hung in there but fell short - actually a nice encapsulation of their season.
March 13th - Tampa Bay 3, New York 2
“Vasilevskiy has recently caught fire, sporting a ridiculous .956 SV% in the six games since Ben Bishop was traded to the LA Kings, with only one overtime loss -- but that loss came on March 6 against Annti Raanta and the Rangers.”
“By repeatedly chipping the puck into the offensive zone, the Lightning kept forcing the Rangers to skate 200 feet to get their chances. It wasn’t a pretty way to play, but it kept them in the game long enough for a crack to appear in the Rangers defense.”
That’s what the Lightning had been reduced to by the middle of March. A team normally known for its fast-paced transition game had become a “chip it in and defend” team. Granted, they were quite beat up at the time (Bryan Froese and Gregg McKegg both received actual ice time in this game), but still it was hard to watch at some points.
Goals: Brayden Point (2), Steven Stamkos (1), Gabriel Dumont (1)
Assists: Nikita Kucherov (3), Anton Stralman (1), Ondrej Palat (1), Jason Garrison (1), Jonathan Drouin (1)
Andrei Vasilevskiy .971 (33 saves on 34 shots)
Peter Budaj .929 (26 saves on 28 shots)
Ben Bishop .838 (31 saves on 37 shots)
Nope. No trades between these two teams. Maybe New York is still a little bitter over what they gave up for Marty St. Louis in 2014.
View from the Other Bench:
Unfortunately I did not have time to reach out to Blue Shirt Banter for a comment in regards to the season series. So, instead, some highlights from their takes on the match-ups:
Bryan Winters after the 1-0 overtime loss:
“With Raanta stealing the show in the first period, Andrei Vasilevskiy took the spotlight right back during the middle frame. Both goaltenders were simply spectacular tonight and as a result, it was going to take quite a shot to beat one of these goaltenders.”
Joe Fortunato after the 1-0 game:
“A lot of people said “NYR won what do you care?” Let’s play a game then. You’re at the casino and you get two kings in a game of blackjack. Does hitting (and lucking into an ace) make it a good decision? It does not, because nine times out of ten you’re going to bust. That’s what last night is like. The Rangers won, they got the two points and that’s great, but that is not the type of hockey you should want the Rangers to be playing night in and night out.”
I’m including this simply because my greatest moment in gambling history involved a blackjack tournament where I not only hit on twenty, but doubled down on twenty and lucked out with an ace. Sadly, I did not end up winning said tournament. A great bit of fun rendered meaningless by an overall losing result - kind of like Nikita Kucherov’s 40-goal season.
Did the Rangers help or hurt the Lightning?
Collecting three out of a possible six points against a playoff team would seem to be a good thing, but in the end it wasn’t enough. The 6-1 drubbing did serve as a bit of a wake up call. It was their third loss in a row (all games where they only scored one goal). They would go on to take out their frustration on the Islanders in the next game (a 6-1 victory for the Bolts) and play fairly well for the next two weeks or so.
The 1-0 overtime loss was heartbreaking for the Bolts in the sense that they played one of their best games of the season but couldn’t support newly appointed number-one goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with any offense. If it was Henrik Lundqvist pitching the shutout it would be one thing, but to be able to solve Antti Raanta was a tough pill to swallow, especially when they needed as many points as possible at moment in the season.
As for the win a week later - well it was nice that Peter Budaj picked his first win as a member of the Lightning, right? And Brayden Point scored twice on his birthday! So that was cool.
While the 6-1 beatdown was embarrassing, it was the 1-0 OT win that really hurt the Lightning. So, in the end, the Rangers two victories hurt the Bolts this season.