By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Following their 4-1 victory over the Islanders on Thursday night the Rangers spoke about stringing together some wins to offset a one-step-forward-one-step-back start to the 2013 season. And on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers followed through with an impressive 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, lifting the Blueshirts over the .500 mark for the first time this season with a record of 6-5-0.
For the second straight game the Rangers were paced offensively by one of the team's impressive group of young players, and Henrik Lundqvist sparkled in goal at the other end of the ice. On Thursday it was rookie J.T. Miller scoring on the team's first shot of the game and finishing with a pair of goals against the Islanders, and on Sunday it was second-year pro Carl Hagelin, who also scored on the Rangers' first shot of the contest and who added another score later in the game, while Lundqvist was rock-solid between the pipes, backstopping the win with 18 saves.
Hagelin set the stage for the Rangers to race out to a 3-0 lead before the game was half over, eventually driving Tampa Bay goaltender Mathieu Garon from the match 9:58 into the second period. Just 31 seconds into the game Hagelin deflected a spinning wrist shot from the high slot by Rick Nash past Garon to give the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead.
The Rangers doubled their advantage before the first period was over when Ryan Callahan intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, then sped up left wing, cutting to the net and tucking the puck past Garon's outsretched leg at 15:13. Callahan's third goal of the season was an unassisted goal, but the unsung hero on the play was Darrell Powe, whose aggressive forecheck led to the blind pass which was intercepted by the Rangers captain.
Garon may have allowed a pair of goals in that opening period, but he was the main reason why the Lightning---who were snowed out in Boston the day before---were not down by three, four or more goals entering the second period. The veteran netminder stymied the Rangers repeatedly, including a pair of gorgeous point-blank saves on Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi with the Blueshirts on the power play with eight minutes to play in the period.
Though the Rangers outshot Tampa Bay 15-6 in the first period, Lundqvist faced five different odd-man rushes which led to prime scoring chances for the Lightning. Lundqvist, coming off a strong 27-save performance against the Islanders, made a sensational save on rookie Cory Conacher's 2-on-1 opportunity midway through the first, and also robbed Martin St. Louis with a stick save just moments earlier.
Lundqvist was also a touch lucky as the puck rolled off Vincent Lecavalier's stick on a clean breakaway during the first period, with the disc rolling just wide of the far post.
Hagelin kayoed Garon from the game scoring his second of the contest, and third of the season, at 9:58 of the second period. After taking a pass from Marc Staal in the neutral zone, Hagelin sped into the Lightning zone, looked off a pass to Derek Stepan streaking down the middle, and wristed the puck past Garon to give the Blueshirts a 3-0 lead. Garon was lifted in favor of Anders Lindback after allowing three goals on 19 shots. The two-goal game was the third of Hagelin's young career.
Lecavalier put the Lightning on the board with his fifth goal of the season with 5:18 to play in the second period. Lundqvist was in the midst of scintillating saves, including a lunging toe stop on a Victor Hedman drive, but Lecavalier banked the rebound off Lundqvist and over the goal line to cut the home team's advantage to 3-1.
Arron Asham iced the win for the Rangers by scoring his first goal with the team with 7:38 to play in the third period. Ryan McDonagh took the puck away at his own blueline, passed up to Asham creating a 2-on-1 rush the other way, and Asham beat Lindback to the far side to make the score 4-1.
Nash scored his third goal with nine seconds left to play, assisted by Hagelin.
Dan Girardi returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with an unspecified nagging injury. He earned the secondary assist on Hagelin's game-opening score and played his usual steady defensive game, partnering with both Ryan McDonagh and Staal. He also earned an assist on Nash's goal.