If Chris Drury was looking for answers from his New York Rangers team, he certainly got them from this game. The Rangers played with playoff level intensity and kept pace with the two-time Stanley Cup champions and were able to come away with a win on a power play goal with only 16 seconds left. It was a great game and gives hope to all Rangers fans when it comes to the postseason.
The duel between Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy lived up to the advanced billing as both netminders were outstanding. The Lightning tempted fate, giving the Rangers six power plays and it finally cost them as Mika Zibanejad scored.
The Lightning have to be considered a favorite to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. They are battle hardened and have the same core players and depth to do it again. The fact is, the Rangers won all three games that they played against the Lightning and they did it playing playoff hockey.
Jacob Trouba said “It’s exciting to win games like that…that’s what we need against these type of teams and these are the teams we want to be playing against, playing tight games and being able to come out on top.”
Could the Blueshirts use some depth scoring and more help on the blueline? Absolutely. But as constituted, this team can play with anybody. This game gave Drury a realistic picture of what to expect when the playoffs roll around.
Gerard Gallant was very happy with the results. “That’s three in a row that we’ve played the way we wanna play. I think we’re finding our game and everyone’s enjoying ourselves…it was a great hockey game, great goaltending at both ends, a fun game to coach. ” He called it “another battle, a low scoring, playoff type of game.”
The Lightning came out of the first period with the 1-0 lead and had the better of the play. They swarmed the Rangers early and the Blueshirts didn’t get a shot on goal for the first four and a half minutes.
The Rangers were able to get some balance when Victor Hedman was sent off for delay of game, but the Tampa penalty kill held the Rangers to one shot, a harbinger of things to come.
The Lightning got a power play when Patrik Nemeth was called for interference when he got tangled up with Mathieu Joseph. They scored a minute into the man advantage when Brayden Point was able to bang home a loose puck between Igor Shesterkin’s legs.
The goal was not without controversy. Shesterkin had made the stop on a Victor Hedman slap shot, but didn’t know where the puck was. He froze for a couple seconds, but then moved when he didn’t get a whistle. At that point, the puck came free and Point darted in a poked it into the neet. The Rangers were upset over the slow whistle, but the goal counted and the Rangers had to come from behind once again.
They did exactly that when Jacob Trouba scored at 9:25 in the second period.
The Rangers were buzzing when Alexis Lafreniere shot the puck in from the blue line and Trouba was able to beat Vasilevskiy when he got to the rebound. The Rangers had been in control of the game, outshooting the Lightning 8-3 before the Trouba goal.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper challenged the goal claiming goaltender intereference, but the call on the ice was confirmed and the Lightning had to kill off another penalty as a result.
The Lightning had to kill off three straight penalties and were outstanding doing it, keeping the Rangers’ power play from getting set up. One of the penalties was to Pat Maroon who ran Shesterkin who had gone behind the net to handle the puck. Ryan Lindgren immediately challenged Maroon and there was a short wrestling match. Maroon waited until the linesmen were restraining them to try to pummel Lindgren.
Going into the third period tied 1-1, both teams settled down and played solid defensive hockey. Each team had some chances, but Vasilevskiy was good and Shesterkin was even better.
There were a lot of Ranger fans in the arena and there was an “Igor, Igor” chant after he made one nice save.
Ryan Reaves got into his third fight of the season when he took on Maroon four minutes into the period. Maroon wanted no part of Reaves and didn’t even throw a punch.
It looked like the game was heading to overtime when Erik Cernak inadvertantly high sticked Chris Kreider with only 2:15 left in the game. It was the sixth power play of the game for New York and it was no better than the first five with the Rangers unable to set up or get a shot.
With 36 seconds left in the penalty there was a play stoppage and Gallant sent out the first unit. Zibanejad won the neutral zone draw, the Rangers got into the Tampa zone and then Artemi Panarin made a fabulous cross ice pass to Zibanejad for the one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy.
16 seconds left in the game and the Rangers had the lead.
Here is a video recap of the game:
If anyone thinks the Rangers cannot compete with the elite teams in the NHL, think again. Sure, they rely on the power play, the goalie and their elite players, but that is enough to win on many nights.
As Gallant said, “They’re a great team (the Lightning) and they do a great job. You feel good when you come in on the road and beat a team like that. It’s a good win for our group and we’ve got to go play another real good team tomorrow.”
Trouba spoke about the team effort. “We’ve played two games where we’ve had a pretty consistent effort from the whole lineup, there’s no passengers and that’s what almost we feel better about, building our game that way.”
We’ll see what Chris Drury does by Monday to further improve the team and when Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney come back from injuries, the team will be whole. If they play like this, no team will want to play the Rangers.