In what would be a playoff matchup if the season ended today, the seventh-place New York Rangers lost for the fourth time this year to the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1.
Despite a late last-minute flurry with the goalie pulled, the Rangers could just not generate enough offense as the 'Bolts bottled up the Rangers' forwards for most of the afternoon. With Dan GIrardi (boarding) and Brian Boyle (delay of game) in the penalty box early in the third period, Vincent Lecavalier's 5-on-3 power play goal 2:40 in proved too much for the Rangers to overcome -- despite the third period being New York's strongest.
The Rangers had 23 shots in the game -- just four in the defensively dominating first period for the Lightning -- but they played very well in the defensive zone as well, limiting the high-powered Tampa Bay offense to just 19 shots on goal. Martin St. Louis' first-period marker squeaked through the five hole of Henrik Lundqvist, who was moving right to left, and could be considered a "softy," but it's hard to fault the All-Star with anything with the way he's played lately.
Before their last power-play opportunity (four in total) in the third period, the Rangers actually created more offense during their penalty kills (six in total). On a penalty kill in the second period, strong boards play by Brian Boyle freed the puck up for Ryan McDonagh who sprung Brandon Prust on a one-on-one that turned into a breakaway when the 'Bolts defender caught an edge and Prust converted for his fourth shorthanded goal -- and 10th on the year for New York -- of the season. The Rangers' three man advantages in the first period were pitiful, but the one more they earned which occurred in the third period was much better -- and Bryan McCabe's shot was definitely a factor and should be a real asset for the team moving forward.
The Rangers, 70 points, did not play a poor game by any means. This was a game against a top-tier playoff team and they held their own, limiting Tampa Bay's offensive chances for most of the game, dominating in the faceoff circle, 34-18, and in takeaways, 15-3. If the Rangers take a few less (suspect) penalties and put one home on their power-play chances, it could've been a totally different outcome. But as it is, the results matter most, especially at this point in the season and the Rangers did not get those much-needed two points.
The Blueshirts face off against the ninth-place Sabres, 65 points, on Tuesday.