A first-period lead and a slew of prime scoring chances the rest of the way were to no avail Tuesday night for the Rangers as their three-game winning streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden.
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop returned from a four-game injury absence on Tuesday, much to the dismay of the Rangers. Bishop, who ranked second in the NHL with a 1.86 goals against average coming into play Tuesday, was also a perfect 4-0-0 with two shutouts and a 0.89 GAA in his previous four career starts against the Blueshirts. Earlier in the season Bishop had backstopped a 5-0 shutout against the Rangers, and on Tuesday he was once again a difference maker stopping 33 of 34 shots.
Bishop's return was one key for the Lightning, but so was their discipline. The Lightning came into the game having surrendered eight power play goals in the previous five contests, and at least one in each of those five; and back on December 29th at the Tampa Bay Times Forum the Rangers strafed the Lightning for three power play goals in a 4-3 win. However on Tuesday night the Rangers--who had scored at least one power play goal in five consecutive matches--had just two power play opportunities all night, both in the third period, and failed to convert on either.
After a strong first period in which they exited the ice with a 1-0 lead, things came undone for the Rangers early in the second period and that, combined with the terrific play of Bishop after things stabilized for the home team, put the Blueshirts in a 2-1 hole after 40 minutes of play.
Ryan Callahan was called for a questionable high sticking penalty just 29 seconds into the second period, setting in motion a bad chain of events. That Callahan should have been penalized was debatable because while there was no doubt his stick struck Bishop in the face mask, replays showed that his stick was lifted from behind by Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer. Callahan pleaded his case with officials to no avail and less than a minute later the Lightning capitalized with a power play goal to tie the game, 1-1.
Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman--who left the ice in the first period and headed to the dressing room after crashing awkwardly into the boards on a check delivered by Brian Boyle--proved to be a quick healer as he drilled a slap shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 1:10 to even the score. It was Hedman's career-high 10th goal of the season, second in as many nights, and third in the last six games.
On the following faceoff Radko Gudas sent a long home run pass through the middle of the ice and found rookie Nikita Kucherov streaking past Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto and John Moore. Kucherov accepted the pass and then beat Lundqvist between the pads on the breakaway just nine seconds after Hedman's goal to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.
New York had taken a 1-0 on a Brad Richards goal at the 11:55 mark of the first period. Callahan slid a pass from behind the net to Richards in the lower left circle, and Richards zipped his 12th goal of the season past Bishop short side. Richards now has a six-game point-scoring streak, equaling his own team-best mark set earlier this season.
That the Rangers were held to that one goal despite 23 shots on goal through two periods was due in large part to Bishop, who stymied the Blueshirts at nearly everuy turn. Two of his best saves came early in a still scoreless game when he stopped Callahan off a 2-on-1 rush with his left pad at the five-minute mark, and then 49 seconds later denied Chris Kreider's backhand attempt on the breakaway.
Benoit Pouliot had a pair of prime scoring chances, as well; and Callahan was robbed by Bishop's glove 11 minutes into the second period after Ryan McDonagh forced a Lightning turnover at the blueline. Daniel Carcillo missed the net on a second-period breakaway, and McDonagh rang a power play shot off the post in the third, too.
Three games into a four-game homestand, the Rangers close out their home run on Thursday night when they host the Detroit Red Wings.