New York, NY – The New York Rangers (20-14-2) earned a point forcing the overtime frame, but fell to the Tampa Bay Lighting (20-10-5) in hockey action on Thursday night. Ryan Malone struck for the game-winner in the 11th round to lead the Lightning to the victory.
On the night that Mats Zuccarello made his NHL debut for the Rangers on a night full of injuries to big named players for the squad. The winger made his impact felt throughout the game, making creative chances with every opportunity that he had.
Zuccarello also tallied a shootout goal, which made the score 2-2 in that frame. The winger was able to get a backhander in the net past Tampa Bay keeper Dan Ellis.
“I was pretty nervous, but I said I had to score,” Zuccarello told New York Sports Day of the shootout opportunity after the game. “I won’t get a chance again like that.” The young winger would continue by saying, “It was exciting I was pretty happy.”
The two teams would remain tied until Malone banged home the game-winning goal off the cross-bar that bounced into the net that gave the Lightning the victory.
“It means that when we are going after something, we get it.” said Lighting coach Guy Boucher after the game. “I think the first stretch of the season we had all of these injuries, we said it many times with the crazy schedule we had. Our short term goal was to be first in our division by the holidays. For us, it just shows how much character the guys have, and how much they put into it.”
The night would begin on an ugly note for the Rangers as a turnover would lead to a Martin St. Louis (14) slap shot at the 2:00 mark to give the Lighting the 1-0 lead. The winger would have a golden one-on-one opportunity and did not hesitate to cash in on the 12 foot attempt.
New York would rally back on a Ruslan Fedotenko (6) slap shot at the 11:16 mark which would tie the two teams up at 1-1. Fedotenko who was set up by Brian Boyle (6) was able to let go of a wicked 18 foot slap shot that went right through the five hole of Lightning keeper Dan Ellis.
Alexander Frolov (7) would quickly give the Blueshirts the 2-1 lead at the 11:28 mark, recording a second chance wrist shot, which was set up by Artem Anisimov (10) and Chris Drury (2).
The Rangers would give up another costly turnover at the 18:54 mark, as Lightning phenom Steven Stamkos (27) would tie the two teams up at 2-2. Stamkos would play scrooge when he netted a 15 foot wrist shot, which was assisted by Martin St. Louis (31). The horn would sound to end the first period of play with the two teams tied, in spite of the Rangers out shooting the Lighting by a tally of 10-7.
Both teams would have plenty of golden opportunities as the start of the second period would begin. One would come from a backhanded attempt by Vincent Lecavalier, but the shot was stuffed by Henrik Lundqvist, much to the delight of the 18,200 in attendance.
Brandon Dubinsky would have a great 27 foot snap shot opportunity at the 12:10 mark for the Rangers, but he was denied by Lightning keeper Dan Ellis. The two teams would go back and forth until a Vincent Lecavalier 9 foot tip-in gave the Lighting the 3-2 edge. Lecavalier (4) who got the assists from Pavel Kubina (9) and Brett Clark (9) was able to get his big body to the net and deflect a goal for the lead.
The never say die Rangers would rally yet again finding a third period tally much to the delight of the Garden faithful. Center Derek Stepan (10) was able to notch the two teams up at the 11:18 mark recording a wrist shot that was set up by Brandon Dubinsky (14) and Matt Gilroy (4).
Neither team would be able to gain the edge in an action packed overtime frame, and would need the shootout to decide the winner.
“I think we grind, we are a team that continues to play and continues to grind,” said head coach John Tortorella on the resilience that the Rangers continue to show on a nightly basis. “We work out butts off on a nightly basis to score a goal.” The coach would continue to say, “I have a lot of respect for the guys because we didn’t get frustrated. We gave them a couple, but we battled back.”
The Rangers would begin the shootout on a great note as Erik Christensen tallied the first goal of the frame. Sadly though for those in attendance, the Lightning would strike back with goals from Victor Hedman and Adam Hall respectively to give them the 2-1 lead. That was when rookie Mats Zuccarello netted a forehand goal to tie the two at 2-2.
The media would learn after the game that the team had decided to send the rookie Zuccarello back down to the minor league, to gain more playing time in Hartford. Coach Tortorella was impressed with what he saw giving the rookie a pretty good report card in the post game press conference.
“He is an interesting guy. He made some plays I didn’t think he could make,” Tortorella said. “You see the creativity, you see his skill. I try to temper myself because you never know. Give the kid high marks. He stood right in there and played really well.”
Both squads would continue to attempt some pretty shots in that frame, but it was the Malone shot that was the scrooge, while leading to the 4-3 victory for the Lighting. Lundqvist would finish the night with 21 saves in a solid effort for the Rangers, while Tampa Bay keeper Dan Ellis finished with 34.
Lundqvist would have this to say on the game, “It is definitely frustrating. We played pretty well and were the better team the whole game. Still we were down one goal going into the third and we tied the game, which is a good thing. That is a plus we will take.”
Meanwhile on the other side of the locker room Lightning keeper Dan Ellis would have this to say of the Rangers, “They really battled us hard throughout the game. We have a system that is hard to cycle through and they battled to get their chances. You really have to tip your hat to them.”
New York will have three days off before renewing their metropolitan rivalry with the Islanders and Devils. The Blueshirts will begin that week by hosting the Islanders on Monday night for a 7:00 p.m. face-off. They will continue it on Thursday going to New Jersey for a 7:00 p.m. face-off against the Devils.