The heroes have been changing every night for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but one thing has remained constant. The team keeps on winning.
Steven Stamkos had a goal and two assists, Ryan Malone added a pair of power-play goals and Mike Smith made 15 saves to tie a career-high four-game winning streak as the Lightning beat the overmatched New York Rangers 5-3 Wednesday night.
Tampa Bay improved to 6-2-1 at home and has won a season-high five consecutive games, marking the team’s first such streak since Nov. 7 to Nov. 16, 2007. The victory moved the Lightning into a tie for fourth in the Eastern Conference and just four points behind division-leading Washington. Tampa Bay travels to the nation’s capital for a matchup with the Capitals on Friday.
“It’s a win, and it’s five in a row,” Stamkos said. “We take pride in that.”
Victor Hedman added his first of the season and Brett Clark also scored for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in the last nine against the Rangers. The win helped Tampa Bay move out to 5-1-1 against Atlantic Division opponents this season.
Henrik Lundqvist spotted Tampa Bay a commanding five-goal lead through two periods, including three that came with the man advantage, while the Lightning limited New York to just seven shots in the first 40 minutes.
“For the first two periods, we played great,” Stamkos added. “We came out strong.”
Despite the victory, Tampa Bay was not pleased with its third period effort, allowing three goals in a span of 15 minutes to Steve Eminger, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan.
“We weren’t happy with the way that third period went,” Smith said. “We sat back and let them come at us. They’re a good hockey team, so they’re going to capitalize on some chances.”
Hedman’s slap shot from just inside the blue line at 16:56 added the Bolts’ fifth of the night, and Eminger got the Rangers’ first on the board with a rebound to open the third period.
Boyle cut the deficit to three with seven minutes remaining, adding a shorthanded goal after Sean Avery received an instigator penalty following a scuffle with Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund.
Stepan scored with the man advantage at 18:56 to close the gap to two.
“We gave up everything they got,” Smith added. “If we had just played the way we did through two periods, they wouldn’t have had that many. We have to play our game through 60 minutes, not just 40.”
Tampa Bay opened scoring at 7:06 on the power play. After Lundqvist stopped a flurry of chances in front of the net, Malone whacked one home from the top of the crease on a third attempt.
He added his second of the night with the man advantage when he wristed in a rebound from the low slot four minutes before the first horn sounded.
“Ryan Malone has been working extremely hard,” Head Coach Guy Boucher said. “he kept on battling and making sure, so I’m pretty happy he has had his stick on the ice.”
Stamkos stretched the lead to three after finishing off an odd-man rush. As Martin St. Louis brought the puck up into the zone, he found Steve Downie with a pass along the left circle. Downie waited, pulled back, and found the league’s leading goal scorer streaking down the left side before he broke to the crease and chipped in his 21st of the season past Lundqvist.
Clark made it 4-0 when he cashed in Tampa Bay’s third power-play goal of the night with a deflection of Steve Downie’s slap shot from the high slot. Clark tipped the puck before it bounced off Lundqvist’s shoulder and eluded the net minder’s swipe of the glove as it crossed the goal line at 11:05.
The Rangers’ loss was just the second in the team’s last five games on the road.
“I don’t think we played as hard as we needed to,” New York forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “It’s tough.”
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