Since putting the finishing touches on a 7-3 win in Toronto last Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen the quality of their play progressively drop over the course of their six-game road trip. Following a disastrous showing in New York, the Lightning are left searching for answers after seeing their hot start to the season evaporate over the last three games. In fact, they might wanna burn the tape of this game.
Michael Grabner notched the third hat trick of his career, J.T Miller had a goal and two assists, and backup goaltender Antti Raanta made 31 saves in a rare start as the Rangers steamrolled Tampa Bay 6-1, sending the Lightning to their third consecutive loss. Rick Nash also chipped in a goal and an assist, Kevin Hayes had three assists, and Jimmy Vesey had a goal, as New York scored four times in the second period, including three goals in the span of 2:19. Steven Stamkos tallied the Lightning’s only goal, a power play tally late in the third period that spoiled Raanta’s bid for a shutout, putting the Bolts’ record at 5-4-0. Ben Bishop took the loss for the Lightning, allowing all six gaols and finishing with 31 saves. It was the first game of the season for Lightning winger Ryan Callahan, who was returning from offseason hip surgery. It also marked Nikita Kucherov’s return to Tampa Bay’s lineup, as he had missed the previous night’s game in New Jersey.
Overall, it was a very sloppy, turnover-filled, disjointed effort by the Lightning. Even though a few bounces didn’t got their way, the Bolts were consistently outworked by New York, who won a ton of puck battles and had numerous odd-man rushes and breakaways throughout the night. The Rangers finished with 37 shots on goal, but also attempted 70 shots. During the opening half of the first period, the teams traded scoring chances, but things began to shift in New York’s favor about 10 minutes in, when Nash and Vesey had a two-on-one rush for the Rangers that was thwarted by Victor Hedman. For much of the rest of the period, New York began to control the flow of play and had several chances in close on Bishop. Tampa Bay’s best chances came off the stick of Jonathan Drouin during a power play and from Kucherov, whose one-timer in the closing seconds of the period was kicked aside by Raanta.
Much has been made of the Lightning’s struggles in the opening period, as this game marked the eighth time in nine games that Tampa Bay has failed to score in the opening period. However, it was the second period of this game that broke this one wide open. At the 4:45 mark, Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn kept the puck in the Rangers’ zone, but it bounced off of Tyler Johnson and went back into the neutral zone, as Coburn and Andrej Sustr were caught up ice. Nick Holden got the puck up to Nash, who sped into the Lightning zone on a breakaway, where he beat Bishop high to the glove side with a laser beam of a wrist shot to put the Rangers up 1-0. New York continued their onslaught just 1:57 later, when they used some excellent puck movement to go up 2-0. Hayes moved the puck to Brady Skjei, who skated into left faceoff circle, drawing Lighting players toward him before feeding a perfect pass to Grabner for his first goal of the night, one-timing it into an open net. Just 22 seconds later, it was 3-0 Rangers, as Nash jumped onto a loose puck following a Coburn turnover, dishing the puck to Vesey. The Rangers’ rookie then beat Bishop for his fifth goal of the season, and the rout was on. Tampa Bay had to kill off a two-minute 5-on-3 power play later in the period, and it looked like the Bolts might have had a moment that could be used as a momentum-booster. But it wasn’t meant to be, as New York added to their lead with 1:50 left in the second period, as four Tampa Bay players got caught up ice, leading to a 4-on-1 rush the other way for the Rangers. Dan Girardi got the puck to Hayes, whose initial shot was stopped by Bishop. However, Miller was easily able to knock the rebound home for a 4-0 lead.
In the final period, Grabner would finish off his first hat trick since February 2011 when he was a member of the New York Islanders. With the Lightning needing to take more chances offensively due to the fact they were trailing, Grabner found himself on a breakaway, where he buried a shot past Bishop for a 5-0 lead. He’d complete the hat trick with 5:13 left, bringing his goal total to five on the season. Kucherov nearly broke the shutout bid when he hit the post with a shot late in the game, but it was Stamkos who got his sixth goal of the season to get the Bolts on the board, converting a pass from Kucherov with 3:24 left, as Anton Stralman got the secondary assist.
The Lightning will look to end their road trip on a high note on Tuesday night when they take on the New York Islanders in their first visit to the Barclays Center since the second round of last season’s playoffs. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Michael Grabner – No-brainer choice here, as Grabner earned the third hat trick of his career and his first since February 2011.
2nd Star: Rick Nash – Got the game’s opening goal, tallied an assist, and consistently generated scoring chances throughout the night
3rd Star: Antti Raanta – The Rangers’ backup got the rare start, but made 31 saves in picking up the victory.