By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Facing perhaps the hottest team in the NHL, and the most prolific offense in the league so far this year, the Rangers put forth their finest all-around performance of the season, skating away with their first road victory of the season, a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Rick Nash snapped a 1-1 tie 3:04 into the third period, scoring his second goal of the season. Nash blew past Tampa bay defenseman Victor Hedman on right wing, bulled to the net, and beat goaltender Mathieu Garon to the far side of the net to give the Rangers their first lead of the night.
Martin Biron made his first start of the season in goal for the Rangers and turned in an excellent outing, finishing with 30 saves, as the Blueshirts improved to 4-4-0 on the season---now 1-2-0 on the road. Tampa Bay, which lost for the first time in six games, was coming off an 8-3 victory over Winnipeg on Friday night, and had scored a league-best 37 goals through seven games entering play on Saturday.
Carl Hagelin provided the much-sought-after breathing room by scoring his first goal of the season at 14:47 of the third period to put the Rangers ahead 3-1. Hagelin sped to the low slot to poke a perfect lead pass from Taylor Pyatt under Garon's pads for his first goal since March 15 of a year ago. When Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game, with 21 seconds to play and Garon on the bench in favor of a sixth attacker, Hagelin's goal ended up being the game-winner.
After a scoreless first period, the two teams traded goals in an exciting second period, and headed to the third tied 1-1, with New York holding a 26-17 advantage in shots.
With Stu Bickel in the penalty box for the first penalty taken by either team, Tampa Bay's lethal power play---converting at better than 34 percent on the season---went to work and quickly produced the first goal of the game 4:22 into the middle period. Martin St. Louis zipped a cross-ice pass from right to left, and Matt Carle then quickly fed in front to an open Stamkos, who buried his sixth goal of the season past Biron.
Instead of wilting, the Rangers surged back and seconds after failing on their first power play, Derek Stepan chipped in a loose puck by the crease to tie the game 1-1 at 9:50. Hagelin helped make the play by controlling the puck on right wing before centering into the low slot where Pyatt tipped the puck to Stepan.
The goal was Stepan's first of the season---and first since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Ottawa last spring. Hagelin earned an assist on the goal, his first point of the season.
Two minutes later, following a dominating cycle by Hagelin and Pyatt, Stepan nearly had his second goal, but was robbed point blank by Garon.
The Lightning thought they had grabbed a 2-1 lead at 13:04, but BJ Crombeen's apparent goal was immediately waved off by officials because Crombeen swatted a high bouncing puck out of midair with a high stick. Just 30 seconds later Biron got a piece of Cory Conacher's 2-on-1 shot, which also hit the crossbar.
If there were any questions as to how the Rangers would come out and play following their 3-0 loss to the Penguins on Thursday, they were quickly answered in positive fashion when the visitors played an extremely solid---albeit scoreless---first period. Engaged from the first drop of the puck, the Rangers buzzed Tampa Bay on the forecheck, created a string of excellent scoring chances while peppering Garon with 11 shots, and played a fast-paced, physical brand of hockey.
Marc Staal helped establish the tone of how the Rangers were going to play by eliminating rugged Ryan Malone into the back boards and driving him to the ice early in the first period, and Ryan McDonagh broke up a pair of prime scoring chances for the Lightning to show the Rangers commitment in their own end in the opening 20 minutes.
As part of the Lightning's season-long 20th Anniversary celebration, the organization saluted Rangers head coach John Tortorella and alternate captain Brad Richards for their contributions to that history with a pair of video tributes on the mammouth videoboard above center ice. Both Tortorella and Richards received standing ovations from the Tampa Bay Times Forum crowd.