The Rangers out-shot Ryan Callahan and the Tampa Bay Lightning 35 to 21 in this game and were leading 3-2 halfway through the second period... and they somehow managed to lose 6-3 and get swept in the season series despite playing what was undoubtedly their best game against the Bolts.
What can we say about tonight's loss other than the fact that sometimes some teams just have the Rangers' number, and Stamkos' Lightning clearly know how to deconstruct the Rangers. Ironically, it wasn't Stamkos or Callahan that got the Rangers tonight, it was the rest of the Bolts, especially their kids.
The Lightning got on the board first when Tyler Johnson, who is having an amazing season, beat Lundqvist six and a half minutes into the game despite the Rangers looking very solid early on and getting some great chances. Six minutes later Kevin Hayes scored his third of the season off of a great feed by Carl Hagelin, who had a very strong game, and knotted the game up at 1-1. With four minutes left to go in the period, Brett Connolly shot a puck from the high slot through a screen and beat Henrik Lundqvist to give Tampa their second lead of the game.
In the second period the Rangers looked very good. They were moving the puck around, forechecking, and getting chances... but Ben Bishop had himself a game and despite some outstanding effort throughout the lineup, the Rangers only managed to leave the second period with a 3-3 tie. Martin St. Louis scored his 10th of the year on the man advantage after some gorgeous puck movement and Matthew Carle tied up the game with just five minutes left, but the goal of the period came 2:42 in when Derick Brassard made this play to give Jesper Fast his second goal of the season.
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Carle's goal came after a costly turnover by Ryan McDonagh when he couldn't clear the zone after being handcuffed by a flip pass from Dominic Moore. The Rangers on the ice were exhausted from killing off a long 5 on 3 and Tyler Johnson made them pay by setting up Carle who rifled it over Hank's right shoulder.
The third period was all Tampa. Five and a half minutes into the second period Connolly got his second goal of the game on the man advantage and just one minute and twenty-four seconds later Tyler Johnson picked up his second goal of the game as well. Ondrej Palat added an empty netter to make it 6-3 and to seal the deal for the Lightning who now are now in sole possession of the best record in the NHL. With the empty net the Rangers seemed to be searching for the perfect shot, despite being down 2 goals with time running out on them and when they finally did rifle a shot at the net, it was blocked or turned aside by Ben Bishop.
In my opinion, the story of the night was goaltending. Ben Bishop had some all-world highlight reel saves, including robbing Rick Nash at least twice on great chances and odd man rushes. Bishop never quit on any play and made a save in the second period from his stomach while kicking his leg up in the air. He was on his game tonight and it took special plays to beat him. Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, was far from royalty tonight. The depth scoring of the Tampa Bay Lightning got the best of him several times tonight and Hank and the Rangers defense simply didn't do enough to keep their team in the game.
Tonight Hank allowed 5 goals on 20 shots. Yikes... just yikes. Ben Bishop is undefeated in eight contests against the Rangers in his career and earned every bit of the six points the Bolts took from the Rangers in the season series. Here's hoping the Rangers don't meet this team in the playoffs, because it looks like this is one nut that the Blueshirts just can't crack.
I'm sure some other things happened tonight that I didn't touch on, but I honestly can't remember because I spent the last few minutes of the game just muttering obscenities and wondering why this team seems to make things more difficult for themselves against dangerous teams. Turnovers, penalties, poor defense, and poor goaltending is a very poor recipe for success against a fast, dynamic team like Tampa that scores more than any other team in the league right now. Tonight the Rangers just weren't good enough despite looking good for stretches during the game. It seemed that each mistake that the Rangers made ended up in the back of the net and the third period just got away from them.
The Rangers host Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings on December 6th at 7:00 PM, here's hoping that the team uses this break to get healthy, get organized, and figure out how to elevate their game. When you lose a game like this, the long rest can sometimes be a detriment when players and fans stew over a bad loss like this. Hopefully that isn't the case this time around.