It was a good news, bad news kinda night for the Broadway Blueshirts.
The Rangers got one valuable defenseman back and won a game that was likely a portent to the playoffs, but it was a bittersweet victory as they lost another valuable defenseman.
Chris Kreider and Tyler Motte each scored twice and Mika Zibanejad had three assists as the Rangers scored an impressive 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden last night.
Valuable defenseman Ryan Lindgren returned to the ice after missing six games and 17 of the last 18 but captain Jacob Trouba left in the first period with what is being called an upper body injury and is being listed as day to day.
Trouba was in the corner to the right of goaltender Igor Shesterkin when he was hit from behind by Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry. Trouba gingerly skated to the bench and went back to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
It was a physical game and one that the Rangers can expect to see come playoff time. “Got a little bit at chippy at times,” Coach Gerard Gallant said. “Overall, you get ready for playoffs, you’d sooner see these games than some of the ones last week.”
There were a number of fights and skirmishes. Physical defenseman Ben Harpur made his presence felt, as he took on Pat Maroon at one point. Late in the game, Harpur cross checked and pummeled Perry, who was in front of the Ranger net as the game ended.
The Rangers, who went 2 for 5 on the power play, can expect to see teams be physical and try to pound them to negate their abundance of skill players. That will make it even more important to capitalize with the man advantage.
As has been their wont in recent games, the Rangers came out flying.
With Steven Stamkos in the box for slashing, Kreider deflected Vladimir Tarasenko’s shot past Lightning goaltender Andrew Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 lead. The goal was Kreider’s 263rd of his career, moving him past Vic Hadfield for sole possession of fifth place on the Rangers’ all time list.
Less than 90 seconds later, Kappo Kakko scored his 17th goal of the season on the Rangers’ third shot of the game, to make it a 2-0 lead. Kakko has six points (4 goals, 2 assists) in his last eight games. The kid line continues to be productive as Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere each added a point.
The Rangers took a 3-0 lead when Motte snuck one in just under Vasilevskiy’s armpit, but the Lightning got on the board just 19 seconds later when Alex Killorn scored on the power play and it was 3-1 after one.
27-year old Lightning rookie defenseman Darren Raddysh scored his first NHL goal (that was originally attributed to Brandon Hagel) to make it a one goal game.
Motte’s second goal of the game, just 15 seconds later, restored the two goal lead. Lafreniere sent a pass off the boards and Motte was able to beat Nikita Kucherov to the puck and cap off the breakaway with his second goal of the game. It was Motte’s third career, multi goal game (he has two in the post season with Vancouver). For the second straight season, Motte, who didn’t start the season with the Rangers, has become a key acquisition.
The Lightning made it a one goal game again as the result of a wild play in front of Shesterkin.
Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli beat Adam Fox to the puck in the Rangers’ zone and put the puck on net. Hagel followed up and put home the rebound, although Shesterkin was on his back side and tried to make it seem like the puck didn’t cross the goal line.
Killorn slammed into Shesterkin late and Lindgren responded by taking on the Lightning left winger. Lindgren was assessed a roughing penalty but Cirelli went off for roughing and Killorn got a slashing call. The Rangers failed to cash in on the power play and went off after two, leading 4-3. “We’re a close knit team, we got each other’s back. We see something we don’t like, we’re gonna jump in there and help each other out,” Lindgren said.
In the third period, Zibanejad’s second assist was a pretty one. The Rangers’ center skated into the slot and put the puck between his legs before sending a back hander towards the net that hit the post. The puck rebounded off of Vasilevskiy and Kreider put it in for his second goal of the game and a 5-3 lead.
A little over two minutes later, the Rangers capped the scoring with a power play goal from Artemi Panarin, assisted by Zibanejad and Fox. “It was a good win, shows that we can play that style and we don’t back down to anyone,” said Lindgren.
Shesterkin made 28 saves while, Vasilevskiy, his counterpart, gave up six goals on 31 shots. Late in the game, the Rangers fans showered the Lightning goalie with chants of “Igor’s better, Igor’s better.”
Patrick Kane missed the game with an upper body injury and is day to day.
Rangers are 11-2-2 in their last 15 games. With four games remaining, the Rangers will finish either second or third. A post season match up with the Devils seems to be a certainty but the Rangers still want to win these remaining games.
“I don’t think there’s a meaningless game in this league, ever,” Motte said. “Two teams that have a little bit of history, dating back to last year. Both competing, both geared up for playoffs. You gotta match that intensity, especially in your own building.”
The Rangers are in St. Louis tonight as Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola will return to play against their old team for the first time since they were traded to the Rangers. “It will be an emotional day for ‘em,” Gallant said.