The Lightning lost 4-1 to the Rangers on the road in New York tonight. Earlier in the day, the team announced that Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli would be game time decisions due to unspecified injuries. Point played but Cirelli didn’t. The injury news got worse as the game went on with both Pat Maroon and Victor Hedman leaving the game and not returning.
The Lightning have played some bad games this season including getting dominated by the Carolina Hurricanes and the Ottawa Senators. It isn’t fair to add this one to that list given the short bench but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch.
The game started chippy. For some unknown reason, Micheal Haley picked a fight with Maroon barely a minute into the game. Both players went to the box for five minutes and Maroon didn’t return to the game. Luke Witkowski saw fit to follow that fight by taking a terrible boarding penalty putting the Rangers on the power play two minutes into the game. The Rangers weren’t able to get much offense going and the Lightning survived the penalty kill.
After that penalty, the game calmed. Neither team was particularly threatening over the next five minutes but the Rangers did start to get the better of play and manage some stretches of sustained pressure.
That turned suddenly with four minutes left in the period. New York went for a badly timed line change and the Lightning took advantage. Brayden Point recovered the puck in the neutral zone and regrouped to start the attack. He and Nikita Kucherov skated in alone and Point found his Hart-winning linemate who beat Alexandar Georgiev to give the Bolts the lead.
After the goal, the teams traded penalties until the end of the period. First, Kaapo Kakko took a slashing penalty sending Tampa on the power play. They couldn’t take advantage though mustering just a few shots from the point. Mikhail Sergachev was the most dangerous player on either unit.
After that penalty expired, Sergachev took a hooking penalty in front of the net with under a minute to go in the period. The Rangers didn’t get anything going before the buzzer sounded.
After the first, the Lightning trailed in both shots and expected goals.
The second period wasn’t a pretty one for the Lightning but what happened on the ice was the least of their issues. First, the team officially announced that Pat Maroon, who hadn’t taken a shift since his fight in the opening minutes, would not return to the game. And then, a few minutes later, they announced that Victor Hedman also would not return to the game.
Based on the timing for Maroon, it seems likely the injury occurred in the fight. And no one was aware Hedman was even hurt until he didn’t take shifts in the second period so we can’t speculate about what happened there. The injuries left the team with just 16 skaters for the final two periods and that started to show as the second period progressed.
The Lightning didn’t help themselves manage the fatigue and instead took a series of penalties in the second period that eventually led to a tying goal for the Rangers. The period started with penalty kill that carried over from the first. The Bolts managed to survive after allowing one big chance to Chris Kreider.
The parade to the box started with 13 minutes left in the period when Mathieu Joseph took an interference penalty. Tampa had nearly killed it when Ondrej Palat took a slashing penalty leading to 20 seconds of 5 on 3 for the Rangers. The Bolts again managed to survive but could not last the full length of the Palat penalty.
The goal was a fluky one but when you take penalties over and over again, the puck is bound to end up in the back of the net eventually. Kaapo Kakko took the shot. Vasilevskiy made the save but the rebound bounced directly off the back heel of Braydon Coburn and into the net to tie the game.
After the goal, the Rangers continued to control the game as the Lightning skaters got increasingly tired. Vasilevskiy made a huge save on Artemi Panarin to keep the game tied with just over five minutes left in the third.
The Lightning countered with one of their only chances of the period as Yanni Gourde set up Joseph on the rush. But that was it for the Lightning and the Rangers took over the game for the rest of the period. They continued to apply pressure including another chance for Kreider. This one went off the post to keep the game tied.
At the end of the second period, the Lightning had a slight lead in 5v5 shots but we’e getting handily beaten in expected goals.
The third period was a mess. The hockey was chaotic and scrambly with both teams looking disorganized, which I guess is to be expected when one has a bunch of young players and the other is missing three of its regular starters. The officials didn’t help by deciding that the penalties they called in the first two periods were enough for the night and swallowing their whistles in the third.
The Lightning’s best scoring chance came early in the period as Carter Verhaeghe received a pass from Joseph. He had net to hit but missed wide. After that chance, Vasilevskiy kept the game tied with several tough saves.
But eventually, he broke. Buchnevich got loose on a counter attack with about seven minutes left in the period. He slid a pass through to Filip Chytil who fully extended his stick and deflected the puck one handed past Vasilevskiy.
After the goal, the Lightning responded with pressure. The effort was there but they couldn’t get many clean looks. Sergachev nearly tied the game on a shot from above the circles but it rung off the post and landed harmlessly in the corner.
The Rangers collected the puck and scored on the ensuing counter attack. Kreider skated in and shot the puck looking for a rebound. It worked and Adam Fox put the rebound into the open net.
Ryan Strome added an empty netter in the final minutes to make it 4-1.
At the end of the game, the Lightning had a slight lead in 5v5 shots but the Rangers led comfortably in expected goals.
This was not a fun game to watch for Lightning fans. The Rangers got over 60% of the expected goals. Considering they’ve been hovering around the 40% mark all season, the Lightning can’t feel good about that. They got outplayed by a team that hasn’t been able to outplay nearly anyone.
But on the flip side, the Lightning were missing Cirelli tonight, lost Maroon in the opening minutes, and then lost Victor Hedman for the final two periods. Those are far from ideal circumstances. Even so, it seems like the remaining players should have been able to come up with a better showing than this against one of the worst teams in the league.
Now the team will hobble into New Jersey tomorrow night with no time for the injured players to recover. We could see one or even two players recalled from Syracuse tomorrow depending on the condition of Cirelli in particular.
Normally, after a game like that, we’d hope to see a strong bounce back performance in the next game. But given the injuries and it being the second half of a back to back, the team will have to find a level of play they haven’t shown much this season if they want to avoid another loss.