The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime behind three points from Nikita Kucherov and a solid performance from Andrei Vasileskiy. The Bolts started strong but failed to maintain that level of play before squeaking out the win.
Ryan Callahan returned to the lineup to play on the fourth line against his former team. On defense, Braydon Coburn took his turn as a healthy scratch with Anton Stralman playing on the third pair with Mikhail Sergachev.
The Rangers started well in the opening minutes causing some havoc with their forecheck and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. But that didn’t last long. The Lightning got their first big chance on a breakaway for Tyler Johnson just over three minutes into the game. He didn’t convert but from that point, the Bolts controlled the period.
Brayden Point got the next good look on a pass from Johnson behind the net. Alex Georgiev made the save keeping the Bolts scoreless for a few more minutes. Andrei Vasilevskiy nearly gave the Rangers the lead when he whiffed on a Neal Pionk shot but the puck fluttered wide of the net.
The Lightning opened the scoring on another open look from the slot following a pass from behind the net. This time, the pass came from Nikita Kucherov. And the shot came from Tyler Johnson. The assist gave Kucherov 102 points on the season and tied him with Martin St. Louis for the second highest point total in a single season in franchise history. The goal was also Johnson’s 300th career point.
Immediately after the goal, Anthony Cirelli nearly scored another after little-brothering Pavel Buchnevich all the way down the ice. Buchnevich is lucky he didn’t end up on a poster as the shot hit the post and the crossbar before bouncing away to safety.
The Rangers got the first power play of the game just over halfway into the period when Mikhail Sergachev took a hooking penalty. They got their best chance early on a good look for Mika Zibanejad from the left circle. He had room short side but Vasilevskiy got over to make the save.
On the same shift, Ryan McDonagh blocked a shot from former Bolt Anthony DeAngelo. The shot went off the inside of McDonagh’s knee rendering him unable to skate for the remainder of the shift. He never left the bench and played the rest of the period.
The Lightning got a chance of their own shorthanded as Yanni Gourde and Victor Hedman created a two on one break. Gourde slid a slick backhand pass across the slot to Hedman but Georgiev made the save to keep the score 1-0.
Tampa got their first power play with 5:30 left in the period. They didn’t take long to take advantage. Kucherov fired a shot pass to the back door for JT Miller and the former Ranger finished the easy dunk. Pionk got his stick on the pass but it wasn’t enough to keep the puck from reaching its intended target.
The assist gave Kucherov 103 points and secured the second-best scoring season in Lightning history with plenty of time to pass Vinny Lecavalier’s 108.
The Rangers got one more good scoring chance at the end of the period as Chris Kreider created a breakaway. But Vasilevskiy shut him down and kept the score 2-0 heading into the first intermission.
After one period, the Lightning had a dominant lead in shots and expected goals.
The Lightning apparently thought their great first period would be enough to win the game. That proved not to be true. The Rangers got a goal back less than a minute into the second period. Jimmy Vesey fed a backhand pass cross-ice to Zibanejad who somehow flipped it backhand past Vasilevskiy. The puck was fluttering and flopping as it flew seemingly in slow motion into the back of the net.
Thirty seconds later, the Lightning got a power play following a scrum involving multiple players. Kucherov immediately created a wonderful chance in the slot for Point who hammered the puck off the crossbar and into the stratosphere. On the ensuing faceoff, JT Miller was called for a phantom slash, which I can only assume was a makeup call for the refs feeling that in retrospect, they should have evened up the penalties after the scrum.
Four on four is a situation that allows the most skilled players to shine and Dan Girardi took advantage burying a pass from Steven Stamkos past Georgiev short side against his former team.
The goal gave Lightning a fans a moment to think the team would get the game back under control. That moment lasted thirty seconds. Vesey again came up with a big play. This time beating Victor Hedman to get to the net where he beat Vasilevskiy.
With 12 minutes left in the period, the Rangers went on the power play thanks to an interference call on Ryan McDonagh. They had lots of zone time but created few good chances. Vladislav Namestnikov hit the crossbar on a shot from the point but that was about all they got.
New York went back on the power play with nine minutes left. This time on a penalty to Cedric Paquette. The Rangers kept the puck in the zone for almost the entire two minutes but were unable to score. The Lightning penalty killers were completely gassed by the time they finally got a stoppage in play.
Following the penalty, the Rangers continued to dominate play. They were rewarded again when Ryan Strome set up Boo Nieves in the slot. Despite all five Lightning players being in the vicinity, none of them picked up Strome, Nieves, or the puck. Vasilevskiy nearly made the save but he kicked the puck off the post, off his pad, and into the net.
The Bolts got one of their few highlights of the period when Kucherov gave Hedman a great look on a cross ice pass but Hedman couldn’t finish the chance. The good vibes didn’t last long though as Miller was called for another penalty with just over two minutes to go. This time, the Lightning penalty kill was better and as the period expired, Anthony Cirelli drew a penalty on a breakaway to give the team a power play to start the third period.
After the second period, Tampa still led in shots but trailed in expected goals.
The Lightning didn’t play much better in the third period than they did in the second. They started by failing to generate anything on the power play. And just as it ended, Sergachev took another penalty giving the Rangers their sixth power play of the game.
The best chance on the penalty came to the Lightning shorthanded. Adam Erne got free for a breakaway but couldn’t score. He picked up the rebound and had a chance at a wraparound with Georgiev out of position but a Rangers player got his stick on the puck to deny him.
The Rangers responded with some good pressure and a couple of chances. Then the Lightning nearly took the lead as Johnson passed to Kucherov on a two on one and Kuch just barely missed the net on one of his patented drag shots. The teams continued to trade chances as Brendan Smith got a breakaway for the Rangers but Vasilevskiy made the save.
In the second half of the period, both teams tightened up and the exchange of chances slowed. The Lightning seemed determined to ensure they at least got a point and the Rangers were mostly unable to break through the defense.
They did generate two stretches of extended pressure. The first came with eight minutes left in the period and the second came in the final minutes of the period. Both stretches involved multiple dangerous chances and forced Vasilevskiy to make saves but the Rangers couldn’t find the net and the game went to overtime.
At the end of the third period, the Rangers led in shots and expected goals.
In overtime, the Lightning were the better team generating the only two dangerous chances. The first was for Hedman on a breakaway. And the second was also for Hedman on a pretty cycle play with Kucherov. Georgiev made the save on the breakaway but Hedman buried the later chance giving Kucherov his third point of the night and 104 on the season.
This wasn’t a good game for the Lightning. They ran the Rangers out of the building in the first period and then couldn’t get much going the rest of the game. They’re lucky to leave with two points.
Despite that, the two points count just the same as any other. And they’re important because tomorrow, the team heads to Boston to face a good team. And on the second half of a back to back, even securing one point would be a success so securing both points tonight relieves some of the pressure for tomorrow.
With the win, the Bolts have now won 10 in a row and have a 102 points with 18 games to go in the season.