Surely this was not the way Henrik Lundqvist would have scripted his 30th birthday celebration. Starting in goal for the Rangers Friday night in Tampa Bay, Lundqvist was staked to a 2-0 lead, but saw the Lighning rally and eventually beat the Blueshirts in overtime 4-3.
Ryan Malone scored the game-winner at 1:58 of OT, sneaking a shot between a defenseman's legs and past Lundqvist. The Rangers had tied the game with just 3:27 to play in regulation when Brandon Dubinsky---benched just 24 hours earlier and called out publicly by his coach to produce more prior to Friday's game---fired a left-wing shot past Mathieu Garon for his seventh goal of the season. Dubinsky's goal forced overtime, meaning that the Eastern Conference -leading Rangers gained another point in the standings, and now have 89 on the season.
The loss was the Blueshirts first in their last four games, and was their third in overtime this season when leading after two periods (26-0-3). It also marked the fourth time in four contestes between the Rangers and Lightning this season in which the winner of the game rallied when trailing after two periods of play.
Trailing 2-1 entering the final period, Tampa Bay tied the game on Teddy Purcell's 18th goal at 3:37. Steven Stamkos then roofed his league-high 45th goal under the crossbar at 10:17 to put the Lightning in the lead 3-2. Purcell finished with a goal and two assists in the game.
The Rangers played for the second straight night without their captain Ryan Callahan, who is sidelined with a contusion of his right foot. He was joined in the sick bay by defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who missed his first game of the season due to a sore hip.
John Scott replaced Callahan up front, with John Mitchell filling the cpatain's spot on the second line with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin. Jeff Woywitka replaced Del Zotto on the blueline, appearing in his first game since December 30th.
The Rangers scored the first two goals of the game, and headed into the second intermission holding a 2-1 lead after Tampa's Tom Pyatt knocked a loose puck behind Lundqvist 7:09 into the middle stanza.
Artem Anisimov had opened the scoring at 10:09 of the first period, netting his 13th goal of the season--and second in as many nights--folllowing a prolonged great shift in the offensive zone. As the Rangers forecheck pinned Tampa Bay in its own end for nearly a full minute the Lightning defenders tired and Anisimov capitalized when the puck came to him in the left circle, zipping a quick snap shot past Garon.
That the Rangers were able to hold any advantage on the scoreboard in the first period was due in large part to Lundqvist, who was excpetionally sharp in stopping all 13 Lightning shots. Tampa Bay outshot New York 13-3 in the opening 20 minutes of play.
The Rangers doubled their lead 2:43 into the second period when Marian Gaborik scored during a 5-on-3 power play with Ryan Malone and Keith Aulie both in the Lightning penalty box. From between the circles Gaborik powered a show through a Mitchell screen for his team-leading 31st goal, and fourth in the last five games.
With that goal, Gaborik has now scored at least one goal against every team in the Eastern Conference except the Montreal Canadiens so far this season.