NEW YORK NY - DECEMBER 23: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers skates off the ice as Ryan Malone #6 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates in the background celebrating his game winning goal in the shootout of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on December 23 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
The Rangers deserved to win this game and there is no debating that. They outworked the Lightning, outshot the Lightning, and outplayed the Lightning. They had numerous opportunities to seal the deal in the third period and also had goaltender Dan Ellis beat several times in the shootout, but again, no conversion. They picked up a point in the standings, but a single point should not be satisfying considering the effort tonight. Two points should have been theirs. This loss stings.
The first period began with a Michal Rozsival turnover in his own zone, resulting in a Martin St. Louis snap-shot goal two minutes in. New York came storming back in the second half of the period when Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexander Frolov scored just 12 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead. That lead didn't last long, however, as Steven Stamkos buried his 27th of the season before the buzzer. 2-2 was the score going into intermission. The first was openly played, but both teams would eventually buckle down defensively.
Despite outshooting the Bolts, the Rangers were unable to find the back of the net in the second period. Instead, Vinny Lecavalier would deflect a Pavel Kubina pass behind Henrik Lundqvist to give Tampa a 3-2 advantage. It bothers me that Lecavalier was able to plant himself at the top of the crease and not be contested by a single Ranger. A player of his skill should be a target out there, but instead he was able to sneak behind the defense and score a goal. That cannot happen.
The Lightning weathered the Rangers' storm for as long as they could, but Derek Stepan came through with the tying goal with just 8:42 remaining in regulation time. That is the second time in two weeks that Stepan has ‘stepped' up and scored a tying goal in the third period, as he did it against the Coyotes not too long ago. He is quickly becoming a clutch player that head coach John Tortorella has a lot of trust in.
Neither team was able to score the winner in overtime, so to a shootout we went. 18,200 strong all rose to their feet at Madison Square Garden and did not sit down once through the eleven rounds it took to finally find a victor in this game. Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello both scored for the Rangers in the shootout, but all nine other shooters were stopped by Dan Ellis. Henrik Lundqvist stopped eight shooters, but it was Ryan Malone's wicked wrister that beat him to win the game for Tampa Bay in round eleven.
Lundqvist played very well tonight. Sure, he was matched by an exceptional performance from Ellis, but some key saves in the third period allowed for the Blueshirts to make the comeback. Also, to be able to completely stone eight straight shooters in a skills competition is remarkable. I was very impressed by that, but then again, it was expected from the King.
Mats Zuccarello did more than just impress in his National Hockey League debut. He created offensive chances with linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan, and because of that received 17:52 of ice time from the coach. As I said he would, he dodged multiple hits with his smooth agility and his speed is very beneficial to the forecheck. Torts had him out there late in the game when they needed a tying goal, which is something that caught my attention right away. It is the kid's first game and he is already being put out in key situations. That says a lot.
His shootout attempt was spectacular as well. Mats froze Ellis by slowing up in the slot and then made a series of dekes to wrap the puck around his outstretched pad. He will be returned to the AHL to play on the 26th, but do not be surprised if he is recalled after that game to play the Islanders on the 27th. He deserves it.
How about Derek Stepan? The Minnesota native is having one hell of a rookie year. From his opening night hat trick, to these tying goals, to shootout attempts. The list is endless. Stepan is a part of the club's core already and shows it each and every game. Plus, I love the intensity he plays with, which is evident by watching him after he scores a goal. That smile and fist-pump are priceless.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were very physical on Steven Stamkos. I liked that, but Stammer still was able to get on the scoresheet. I guess there really is no stopping him, but they did enough defensively to slow him down. That is good enough for me.
The Rangers will not play again until Monday when they host the rival Islanders at MSG. The Isles are coming off of back-to-back wins, so something tells me they will not be as easy to play against as they were the last time they visited the Garden this season.