The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the New York Rangers 2-1 Saturday evening in a matchup of exceptional Russian goaltenders, and those goaltenders put on a show. Brayden Point scored for the Lightning, while Jacob Trouba and Mika Zibanejad scored for the Rangers. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 27 shots, while Igor Shesterkin stopped 28 of 29. Tonight was also the debut of Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois’s latest trade addition: Brandon Hagel. Hagel slotted onto the third line with Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph while the revamped lines from the recent road trip stayed the same.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs looming in a month and a half, the Lightning and Rangers treated fans to a playoff-style game as both teams traded control, pace, and hits. The opening portion of the period saw Tampa Bay dictate the pace, forcing the Rangers to keep up; however, New York managed to generate some pressure of their own, leading to a Victor Hedman delay of game penalty. The Lightning penalty kill (which surprisingly has been mediocre this season) held up against the second-best power-play unit in the league and pushed back once play returned to even strength.
Tampa Bay’s continual pressure eventually led to their own power-play after Joseph was tripped by Patrick Nemeth late in the period.
The Lightning didn’t waste the opportunity.
Beating Shesterkin is a difficult task, to begin with, so, it’s imperative the Lightning don’t squander any loose pucks. Point does exactly that as he capitalized on the Rangers goaltender losing track of the puck.
By and large, the Lightning dominated the opening period. According to Natural Stat Trick, at 5v5, Tampa Bay lead in shot attempts (17-9), shots (12-7), scoring chances (8-3), high danger chances (3-2), and expected goals (70 percent). From every standpoint, it looked like Tampa Bay was on the right track. Then the second period happened.
To say Tampa Bay was outplayed during the middle frame is an understatement. The Rangers flipped the script in every way. They led in shot attempts (13-5), shots (10-3), scoring chances (8-2), high danger chances (5-0), and expected goals (86 percent). The Lightning did little to help themselves as they were shorthanded four different times, repeatedly turned the puck over in all three zones, and failed to generate any kind of consistent pressure on New York. The penalty kill was the only thing that was clicking on all cylinders as they repeatedly shut down the Rangers’ offensive game plan with the man advantage.
That helped, but it didn’t matter because Tampa Bay could not stop turning the puck over.
The replay doesn’t show how the rush started, but it came from another turnover in the offensive zone. The defensive coverage here is a mish-mash—the fact that Trouba was able to freely coast in front of the net is a massive lapse, and it bit Tampa Bay. Jon Cooper unsuccessfully challenged the goal for goaltender interference. While it’s understandable given the initial look of the goal, on replay this wasn’t close to goaltender interference.
The chippiness factor also increased throughout the period, highlighted by Pat Maroon running into Shesterkin behind the net and fighting Charlie Lindgren in the aftermath. Maroon also dropped the gloves with Ryan Reaves in the third period, but the fight was rather uneventful.
The third period saw the Lightning dictate the pace, but they couldn’t find a way to beat Shesterkin. The Rangers, on the other hand, played some version of hang on and wait for a chance. That chance came with 2:15 left in regulation as Erik Cernak was called for high sticking Chris Kreider. The call was iffy, and Kreider definitely sold it, but the more infuriating aspect of the call was how Nikita Kucherov was taken down after splitting two Rangers’ defenders and no call was made.
After making New York’s power-play look lost for most of the game, they finally broke through with 16 seconds left in regulation (funny what happens when a team gets six power-plays).
Overall, this was a goaltending duel that the Lightning barely lost. Vasilevskiy was outstanding this evening, as was Shesterkin (absolutely should win the Vezina), but the Lightning’s inability to score at 5v5 and propensity of taking penalties (as irritating as the Cernak call was, the Lightning have always had a penalty problem) is what ultimately doomed them this evening. They controlled the first and third periods and didn’t make Shesterkin’s life difficult enough. Nowhere near enough traffic in front, and the passing was a smorgasbord of bad decisions, missed opportunities, and whiffed shots.
The Lightning just needs to get back to work and do what they’ve always done. Ignore the last game, focus on the next one.