Brayden Point scores twice in 3-2 win over Rangers

Birthday boy Brayden Point scores the game winner in the third to lead the Lightning to a big victory.

The joy of being a counter-puncher is that they can spend the entire night losing on the scorecards, but land the one perfect punch to score the knockout for the win.

Brayden Point found that perfect shot with six minutes left in the game Monday night to propel the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Despite being outshot 28 to 16 and losing 37 of 60 faceoffs, the Lightning won the first game of a two-game road trip. They move on to Ottawa on Tuesday to take on a Senators team that has won six games in a row. With the win, the Lightning move to within one point of idle Toronto for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Backup Peter Budaj picked up his first win in a Lightning uniform by stopping 26 of the 28 shots in his second start with his new team. Antti Raanta started in place of the injured Henrik Lundqvist.

First Period

The Rangers made sur Budaj and his newly painted mask had plenty of TV time by peppering him with shots in the first period. The newest Lightning goalie had to make a left pad save to stop a Chris Kreider breakaway 45 seconds into the game.

Kreider then used his speed to set up Derek Stepan by beating Hedman to a puck and passing it back to Stepan. Budaj made the save and held onto the puck for a faceoff. The faceoff didn’t go so well for the Lightning.

Stepan won it cleanly, and the Rangers moved the puck to defender Steven Kampfer, who blew a one-timer past Budaj to score his first goal as a Ranger and first NHL goal in almost two years. The Rangers dominated the faceoff circle, winning 65% of the draws in the first period. Having lost so many centers in the last couple of weeks is telling in that stat.

One of the replacement centers, Byron Froese, had his first golden chance as a member of the Lightning as he had the puck on his stick alone in front of Raanta, but fired the puck right into the Ranger goalie’s chest protector.

While the Rangers had the slight edge with five-on-five play early in the game, they made the mistake of taking a penalty. As they have so often during the recent run of play, the Lightning’s special teams came through for them again. Point came close early in the man advantage as he rang one off the post. The Rangers cleared the puck, with Victor Hedman making a nice play to prevent a short handed breakaway and the Lightning re-entered with ease.

Nikita Kucherov controlled the puck behind the net and like a Russian Gretzky, dished it out to Point, who celebrated his 21st birthday today, in front who put the puck past Raanta to tie the game.

While both teams were getting the puck into their respective offensive zones, the Lightning struggled to get shots on net while the Rangers did a better job of finding open shooting lanes leading to a large disparity in shots (13-3 for New York). Budaj made several key stops to keep the game tied at one.

Second Period

Giving up 10 more shots than they took isn’t a sustainable way of playing. So the Lightning tightened up their defense in the second period limiting the Rangers to only seven shots in the middle frame. They did a much better job of breaking up the New York rush in the neutral zone and blocked a few more shots. Jake Dotchin even took one between the shoulder blades in an effort to keep the puck out of the net.

The Rangers did have a couple of glorious chances that they failed to convert. Pavel Buchnevich yanked a shot wide as he stared down a wide open net, and Mika Zibanejad had a prime scoring chance denied by Froese’s backcheck.

Tampa Bay did manage to generate a few more shots at net. It paid off as the Lightning’s hardest working line, Gabriel Dumont, JT Brown and Gregg McKegg put the Bolts ahead with an innocent play. Jason Garrison floated a puck toward Raanta and Dumont deflected it past the screened goalie. For Dumont it was his first goal since February 7th.

Garrison also had an assist on the next goal. Unfortunately, it was for the Rangers.  Garrison was back peddling with the puck in his own zone and had the puck roll off the end of his stick and right to Michael Grabner. Grabner put the puck between Budaj’s legs and the game was tied at two.

Kucherov, held without a shot for the first 35 minutes of the game, finally found some space after a puck hopped over Marc Staal’s stick. He snapped a shot that Raanta stopped with his shoulder.

Third Period

The Rangers were doing an excellent job of keeping the Lightning pinned to the boards when Tampa did manage to get the puck into the offensive zone. There just wasn’t space or time for the Lightning to get shots onto the New York net.

Tampa needed to find some space and the Rangers gave them a chance when Oscar Lindberg tripped up Stralman at the 5:34 mark. The Lightning generated three shots, the best being a big slapshot from Hedman that boomed off of Raanta’s pads. Unfortunately, that was the closest they came to scoring and the game remained tied.

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.

Point and Ondrej Palat ran a perfect give and go as the rookie dished it to Palat as they entered the zone and then drove toward the net. Palat passed the puck to a spot just in front of Raanta and Point’s stick got to the puck in time to redirect it between the goaltender’s pads. Point had his second goal and the Lightning had the lead.

The Lightning held on for the last five minutes of the game en route to their seventh win in their last nine games. It wasn’t all good new for the Lightning as coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Vlad Namestnikov re-aggravated his leg injury late in the second period.  The center missed all of the third period of the game.

Game Notes: Raanta entered the game with a 2-0 record against the Lighting and had stopped 69 of their 70 shots against...Point snapped a six-game pointless streak….