The New York Rangers rang in the New Year in style, as they skated to a 4-0 shutout victory in the second of a home-and-home set with the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Mika Zibanejad, who is in the midst of one of his famed hot scoring streaks, picked up a hat trick in the matinee affair. Meanwhile, Igor Shesterkin turned aside 38 Lightning shots — including 18 in the first period as the Rangers built a 3-0 lead — to record his second shutout of the season.
Ryan Strome also scored for the Rangers and had an assist, while Chris Kreider tallied three assists and Adam Fox picked up two helpers.
Zibanejad’s first two goals came on the power play in the first period, before Strome extended the lead to 3-0 in the opening frame off a pretty pass from Barclay Goodrow, who continued to play well against his former team. Zibanejad completed the hat trick at even strength in the second period; the goal stood after the Lightning challenged that play should have been whistled dead because of an alleged high stick on the puck.
The Blueshirts were content to sit back in the third period, only mustering two shots on goal while yielding nine to the Lightning, but few of high quality, thus preserving the shutout for Shesterkin and a significant win in a game they had to play without superstar Artemiy Panarin due to COVID-19 protocols.
NYR: Mika Zibanejad (9) - Adam Fox (27) and Chris Kreider (9) (PPG) - 7:44
The Lightning came out firing pucks at Shesterkin, ultimately recording 18 shots on goal in the period. But it was the Rangers who found the score sheet, with Zibanejad rifling a wrist shot from the left circle up high and past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to open the scoring on the power play after Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev was penalized for hooking Julien Gauthier.
NYR: Mika Zibanejad (10) - Adam Fox (28) and Chris Kreider (10) (PPG) - 12:37
Only about five minutes later Zibanejad struck again on the power play, with Fox and Kreider once again assisting. With the teams skating four-on-four after matching minor penalties to Strome and Jan Rutta, Steven Stamkos high-sticked Zibanejad to give the Rangers a four-on-three advantage, which they converted after only eight seconds. Zibanejad attempted to hit Kaapo Kakko (who was replacing Panarin on the top power-play unit) with a cross-slot pass, but former Ranger Ryan McDonagh inadvertently tipped it in while trying to break it up.
NYR: Ryan Strome (7) - Barclay Goodrow (8) - 14:53
A couple of minutes later, the Rangers put a stranglehold on the game. Goodrow stole the puck at the offensive blue line, skated down the left-wing boards, and found Strome with a perfect pass in the high slot. Strome wristed a shot past Vasilevskiy as Alexis Lafrenière skated in front to provide a partial screen.
The Rangers were able to fight off a Strome minor penalty late in the period, with Shesterkin stealing the show and leading to crowd chants of, “IGOR! IGOR!”
The Rangers finished the period with 10 shots on goal, in comparison to the Lightning’s 18.
NYR: Mika Zibanejad (11) - Chris Kreider (11) - 16:53
Things settled down a bit in the second period. Tampa Bay came out with a push to get back in the game, owning most of the zone time and shots over the first half or so of the period, but the Rangers then began to settle in and give up fewer high-quality chances while spending some time in the offensive zone themselves.
That culminated in Zibanejad’s hat-trick goal with just over three minutes to go in the period. He knocked the puck out of midair as the Lightning were attempting to exit the zone, before Kreider picked it up and fed a low-slot pass back to Zibanejad for an easy tally. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper challenged that Zibanejad’s knock-down of the puck should have resulted in a whistle to stop play because of contact with a high stick, but after a somewhat lengthy review, the goal was confirmed.
The Rangers got another power play thanks to the failed Tampa Bay challenge, but did not convert this time around.
The Lightning had 11 shots on goal during the period, while the Rangers had nine.
Up by four, the Rangers were happy to sit back and not press for more offense, as they only mustered two shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. While the Lightning had nine, the Rangers did a good job of limiting their high-danger looks, allowing Shesterkin to complete the shutout while never needing to sweat out the finish.
The final shots tally was 38-21 in favor of the Lightning, but the Rangers were once again opportunistic while Shesterkin did his thing. New York is now 21-8-4 on the season, while Tampa Bay is an almost-identical 21-8-5.
The Rangers are right back in action tomorrow (Monday) night at 7:00 PM EST at the Garden against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the struggling-but-dangerous Edmonton Oilers (18-12-2). The Blueshirts will look for a better defensive effort than they one they had back on Nov. 5 in Edmonton, where they lost 6-5 in overtime, with McDavid and Draisaitl putting on a show. They will also look to inch closer towards a fully healthy lineup, as regulars Kevin Rooney and Ryan Lindgren remain in COVID-19 protocol along with Panarin, while Patrik Nemeth was out of the lineup Sunday with a non-COVID issue.