A pair of former Tampa Bay Lightning players and its one-time head coach spoiled a hard-fought effort for the current squad at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night.
Making their first return to Tampa Bay as a head coach-player trio after leading the Bolts to a 2004 Stanley Cup championship, Brad Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Tortorella helped the New York Rangers to a 4-2 win over the Lightning in front of another sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Times Forum.
“It was a question of urgency, reliability and sticking with the plan,” Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. “Tonight it wasn’t there, and there’s no excuse for that.”
Pyatt put Tampa Bay up 2-1 at 17:42 of the second period after beating New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the far post.
The Lightning carried the advantage into the third after two periods, but a goal by Artem Anisimov tied the game at 6:16 of the final frame and sparked a Rangers rally that concluded with a pair of unanswered goals to close out the scoring.
Richards, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup seven years ago, added an empty-net tally with 26 seconds to go in regulation to seal the 2,499th win in Rangers history.
The goal came just 2:53 after Derek Stepan’s fifth of the season stood up as the game-winner that made it 3-2 with just over three minutes to play.
Lundqvist finished the night with 24 saves for New York, which extended its win streak to five games. The Rangers are 12-2-0 in their past 14 games. They will try to reach the 2,500-win milestone at home against Toronto on Monday.
“I think we’ve played well all year long,” Stepan said. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey. We just had to come back tonight, but we found a way.”
Downie’s goal at 1:24 of the first to open the scoring grabbed the Lightning a quick lead. He made it 1-0 after he beat Lundqvist with a slap shot from the high slot, then nearly doubled his goal total on the night early in the second, but his attempt from in-close pinballed back and forth between both goal posts before getting cleared out of the zone.
At the other end, New York saw its fair share of chances just as much in the opening 20 minutes, but couldn’t cash in even with a good number of scoring opportunities due to a number of spectacular saves by Mathieu Garon.
Midway through the first, Garon lunged back across the crease to his left to deny one chance, then turned back Marian Gaborik on a breakaway with a terrific save using his left pad. He stopped an additional chance by Michael Sauer to preserve a one-goal third-period lead late in the game.
Fedotenko finally broke Garon 6:38 into the second after batting a puck in midair off the shaft of his stick while parked in front of the net. Richards threw a pass out in front to set up the goal, which drew New York even at one.
Garon made 32 saves.
The victory was the Rangers’ first all season when trailing after two periods. Tampa Bay, conversely, dropped its first match of the season when leading through the first 40 minutes.
“We played two good periods,” Garon said. “This was a let down in the third period and it’s something that has happened more than once this year. We have to give them credit. They played really well in the third, but for our part, we simply have to play better.”
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