Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning the New York Rangers morphed into the Power Rangers, scoring a season-high three power play goals en-route to a 4-3 road victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The win lifted the Rangers to 19-19-2 on the season and evened their record at 1-1-0 through the first two games on their current five-game road trip.
Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Benoit Pouliot all scored with the man advantage for the Rangers, with Zuccarello pacing the team with his second three-point game of the season, equaling a career-high. Ryan McDonagh and Derick Brassard each contributed a pair of power play assists, while Henrik Lundqvist started in goal for the first time in nine days and stopped 37 of 40 shots to backstop the victory.
Rick Nash got the Rangers going on Sunday by scoring his first goal in eight games just 4:30 into the contest, the team's lone even strength goal on the night. Camped out by the right post, Nash had an easy tap in when Derek Stepan whipped a cross-crease pass his way to put the Rangers up 1-0 against a Lightning team playing its second game in as many nights following Saturday's 2-1 home-ice shootout loss against the Montreal Canadiens.
To their credit Tampa Bay came right back with Tyler Johnson finishing a pretty passing sequence for a power play goal at 10:41 of the first period, tying the game 1-1. Ondrej Palat then hammered a rebound past Lundqvist from left wing at 16:55 of the opening period and the Rangers found themselves in a 2-1 hole. However that's where the team's revived power play began to turn the game back in the Rangers favor.
Eight seconds after Valteri Filppula was penalized for a delay of game minor at 18:17 Zuccarello's centering pass to Pouliot banked off the skate of a Lightning defenseman and past goaltender Anders Lindback to even the score at 2-2. The goal was Zuccarello's ninth of the season, and was the start of a big night for the Norwegian winger, who has now surpassed Brad Richards as the team's leading scorer with 28 points.
Zuccarello made a simply gorgeous soft pass to Kreider on left wing with the Rangers skating on the man advantage early in the second period, and Kreider burst towards the net, slipping the disc into the far side of the cage at 4:35 as the visitors restored their one-goal lead. The goal was Kreider's team-high tenth of the season, and third in the last seven games.
Moments later Tampa's J.P. Cote delivered a crushing hit on Carl Hagelin in the far corner of the Rangers offensive zone and was penalized for high sticking at 6:42. Again the Rangers made the Lightning pay for their indiscretion as Pouliot extended his consecutive games point-scoring streak to a career-high seven games as he tapped in a pretty pass from Brassard at 7:51 of the second period.
Pouliot scored his seventh goal of the season, and it was his team-high fifth on the power play. He now has four power play goals in the past five games.
The three power play goals were the most the Rangers had recorded in a game since they also netted three last April 3rd during a 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team's power play has come alive of late, and including Sunday it has clicked eight times in its last 23 opportunities, covering the six games. The Rangers entered play Sunday with the NHL's 11th-best power play, converting at an 18.9 percent success rate.
With the Rangers 3-for-3 on the power play, and Tampa Bay 1-for-1, the game's first successful penalty kill finally came 13:11 into the second period when the visitors killed off Dan Girardi's interference minor.
The Lightning did make things more interesting, and tense for the Rangers, when Filpulla's deflection beat Lundqvist stick side for an even strength goal at 8:14 of the third period.
Lundqvist was often under siege in the final period of play, and came up with a string of big saves. Though he surrendered more than two goals for the eighth straight start, Lundqvist played better and better as the game wore on, earning his first win in two weeks and only his third in the month of December.
The Rangers No. 1 goaltender faced 16 shots in the third period, stopping 15, and was awarded the team's Broadway Hat once the victory was sealed.
With defenseman Anton Stralman unable to play due to a sore left hand/wrist on Sunday, rookie Conor Allen made his NHL debut, playing a solid game while being mostly paired alongside Justin Falk, though he also took some shifts with Girardi. His first shift arrived 2:12 into the opening period, and he recorded his first shot on goal two shifts later.
Allen logged 15:47 of ice time, including seven minutes in the third period, on ice even as the Rangers protected their one-goal lead late.
The Rangers will play their final game of calendar year 2013, and reach the midway point of their 2013-14 schedule, when they skate against the Panthers in Sunrise on Tuesday night in the their next contest on this road trip.