New York, NY- Two trades will link the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers of the current decade for years to come. The Martin St. Louis and 2018 deadline blockbusters helped each team to a Stanley Cup Final berth and author each team’s most memorable recent moment. While the Ranger’s contention window has closed, Tampa is gunning for glory and flaunted their skill with many former Rangers contributing to a thrilling and record-setting win on Madison Square Garden’s famed ice.
Tampa dominated the first period with Tyler Johnson scoring on a wrister in the slot and J.T. Miller punching in a power play chance. The Bolts outshot New York 14-8 and could’ve had four or five goals. Anthony Cirelli rang iron and missed wide on a shorthanded break. Chris Krieder had a breakaway for NY’s best offensive chance, but Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped the puck cold.
The second period opened fast and aggressive with a smooth Jimmy Vesey feed to the red-hot Mika Zibanejad for his 27th tally of the season and 14th point in 13 February games. On the next shift, a fight broke out between 6’3″ Pavel Buchnevich and 5’9″ Yanni Gourde. The smaller Gourde held his own, and a few seconds later his teammates turned the pace to another tally. Steven Stamkos whipped a perfect pass to Dan Girardi for a laser through Alexandar Georgiev in the Ranger net.
From there, New York dominated the frame. Mere minutes after the Girardi tally, Jimmy Vesey sprung free and threaded a puck through Vasilevskiy for his second point of the night. In the back half of the frame, unsung Ranger Boo Nieves knotted the game even at 3-3.
The third period saw no goals and plenty of Bolts mistakes. Tampa took their seventh penalty of the night when Mikhail Sergachev was whistled for hooking 2:03 into the third. Fortunately, the Lightning penalty kill was perfect on all seven minors.
For the third consecutive game, Tampa played an overtime session. Unlike the last two against Buffalo and Los Angeles, the Lightning won in the three-on-three play. Nikita Kucherov fed Victor Hedman with a drop pass and checked former Bolt Vladislav Namestnikov, who was dealt in the McDonough/Girardi deal, to the ice. Hedman used the empty space to uncork a wrister. New York players and fans lobbied unsuccessfully for an interference minor, but the game ended at 4-3 in Tampa’s favor.
Alexandar Georgiev stopped 26 of the 30 Lightning shots he faced. Jimmy Vesey recorded his fifth multi-point game of the season and third consecutive. Mika Zibanejad runs his point streak to three straight and has scored five points in those three games.
New York falls to 27-26-10 with the OT loss. They’ll resume play on Friday, March 1st, against the Montreal Canadiens. Puck drops at Madison Square Garden at 7 pm ET.
Nikita Kucherov improved his astounding assist and point totals to 74 and 104 respectively, both league highs by double digits. His point total is a career high, is currently four points higher than last season’s total, and there are 18 Lightning games left in the season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33 of the 36 Ranger shots. His start was surprising, considering the Boston trip immediately after playing in New York, but welcome.
Despite the win, Head Coach Jon Cooper stayed focused on improvement. “Most of the year, you leave games and you think ‘we deserved that game.’ I won’t say we didn’t deserve that game but we made it harder on ourselves.”
Tampa’s Record Pace
The victory was Tampa’s tenth consecutive, a franchise record. “That means it’s really hard to catch us” observed Cooper. Tampa has an NHL best 49-11-4 record for 102 points. They’ve surpassed the Regular Season win total of the 2004 Stanley Cup team. They’re five wins from surpassing the total of last season’s Eastern Conference-leading team and have a chance, though admittedly a long shot chance, to surpass the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings win record of 62. 18 games remain on the schedule for Tampa.
The Bolts cap their back-to-back and brief road trip with a highly anticipated matchup with the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. Boston holds the NHL’s second-best point total and still trails Tampa by 19. Puck drop is at 7:30 pm ET.