The New York Rangers will get to know the Tampa Bay Lightning well over the next three days, starting with their first meeting in Tampa on New Year’s Eve.
After Friday’s bayside tilt, the Rangers and Lightning will head to New York for Sunday’s match to round out the home-and-home set.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant would like to see more consistency from his team after it let a pair of one-goal leads slip away in a 4-3 road loss to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday.
Through two periods, the Rangers were the better of the two Eastern Conference powers — good enough for a 2-1 lead after Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad found the net.
However, the Panthers tallied three times in a span of 8:44 in the third period to take a two-goal advantage, and they held on for a 4-3 victory.
The loss was the Rangers’ fourth in their past five outings (1-3-1), but Gallant found positives in his team’s first game since Dec. 17.
“I was real happy with the first two periods, obviously,” the first-year Rangers coach said. “I thought it was a good game. Both teams were back and forth, good goaltending, solid play from both teams.
“In the third, we got away from it, made a couple of mistakes that ended up in the back of our net.”
With 45 seconds left in regulation, New York’s Chris Kreider scored his team-leading 19th goal — in just 31 games — but the Panthers shut down any more scoring chances.
The Rangers will be catching Tampa Bay on the second game of a back-to-back scenario after the defending Stanley Cup champions were blown out 9-3 by the Panthers on Thursday.
The last time the teams met, the final score was also 9-3 — a Lightning victory on Nov. 14, 2019, in which Tampa Bay tied the franchise record for goals in a game.
Lightning forward Brayden Point notched just a single assist in that rout, but the Calgary native made his presence known immediately this week in his return to the lineup following a 14-game absence.
Injured when he crashed hard into the end boards on Nov. 20, the second-line center came back Tuesday, scored twice in the first period and dished out an assist in a 5-4 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens.
“The game doesn’t change, but some of the timing was off,” Point said. “I was a little bit off in the early parts of the game but felt better as it went on.”
Point potted his third marker in two games Thursday, but the Panthers drubbed their in-state rival to improve their home record to an NHL-best 16-3-0.
The Panthers also snapped Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak and handed the Lightning just their second loss in their past 11 games.
Defenseman Darren Raddysh made his NHL debut, and forward Remi Elie skated in his first game with the club.
Waiver-claim center Riley Nash, 32, played in his 600th career game.
With Tampa Bay’s top two goalies, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott, sidelined due to COVID protocol, third-stringer Maxime Lagace was torched for six goals on 27 shots in two periods Thursday. Hugo Alnefelt, 20, made his NHL debut by playing the third period, and he surrendered three goals on 10 shots.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, back after a nine-day, COVID-prompted absence, said of the blowout defeat, “We gave up too many chances to a really good team that wanted to beat us and a team that we’ve handled and beaten in the playoffs, and they haven’t forgotten, and after (Thursday), I won’t forget this.
“But they deserved what they had, and we probably helped them along in the process. But don’t look at our lineup and say that’s a victim of circumstances. We put ourselves in that position.”–Field Level Media