The Tampa Bay Lightning put one of its best efforts of the season to good use.
Steven Stamkos scored his league-leading 36th goal of the season and Mathieu Garon fought off a furious New York Rangers rally in the third period to help the Bolts earn a point in the standings following a 4-3 overtime loss on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Vincent Lecavalier and Bruno Gervais also had goals for Tampa Bay, which has now earned at least a point in seven of its past eight games.
An exciting third period saw the Lightning go toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers, winners in three of their past four.
Down 3-2 with 10 minutes to go in regulation, Brian Boyle wound up to fire home a bouncing puck high over Garon to tie the game at three and force the extra period.
Brad Richards notched the game-winning goal just 2:37 into overtime after taking a pass at the side of the net from Artem Anisimov.
The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 15-1-1 when leading after two periods. Both defeats have come at the hands of the Rangers, who also rallied back from a third-period deficit on Dec. 3 to earn a 4-2 victory over the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan also scored for New York, first in the Eastern Conference with 73 points.
Backup goaltender Martin Biron allowed three goals on 17 shots.
Stamkos opened the scoring after finishing off a breakaway at 18:56 of the first period by backhanding a shot through the legs of Biron for a 1-0 lead.
The goal sparked what had been a sluggish start for the Lightning until that point, as it was outshot 10-4 through the first 20 minutes.
Stamkos now has points in five straight games, including four goals in that span.
“We did a good job early on,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “Garon kept us in there, then Stamkos used his speed to get us that goal.”
Things picked up in the second period, as the clubs scored a total of three goals in a span of 1:15.
First, Callahan tied it while on the power play after he shoveled in an initial shot from the point by Michael Del Zotto that deflected off Pavel Kubina’s stick and rose up on Garon before finding the back of the net.
Stepan then spun around in the low slot and wristed one past Garon just 54 seconds later with the teams competing 4-on-4, but Lecavalier’s 21st of the season drew the Lightning even at 5:48 when he banked a shot into the net over Callahan, who was sitting in the crease.
With the teams all knotted up at two goals apiece, each side saw solid scoring chances to go ahead, but the goaltenders at both ends were equal to the task.
John Mitchell nearly put the Rangers up approximately nine minutes into the middle frame, but a sprawled-out Garon denied his chance at the top of the crease. Less than a minute later, Nate Thompson nearly did just the same, but his shot rang off the cross bar before nearly crossing the goal line. Biron then turned back Stamkos near the side of the net late in the final period.
Gervais finally snapped the 2-2 deadlock at 12:26 of the second with the Lightning on the man advantage. He sent a wrist shot past Biron with Steve Eminger in the box for kneeing.
“It was a great pass by Stammer,” Gervais said. “We’ve been working on it a lot trying to find the seams and trying be on the same page. It was good to put one on net and have it go in.”
Boyle’s fifth of the year made it 3-3 in the final period, allowing both teams to skate away with at least a point as the game went into overtime.
The goal came as a result of a bit of a lucky break. Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin tried to play the puck down the boards in the Lightning zone, but had it blocked. The puck bounced into the slot for Boyle, who ripped it far side to pull New York square at three.
Thursday’s game at New York kicked off a three-game road trip for the Lightning, the team’s longest since Jan. 3-7 north of the border through Canada. The swing concludes with a back-to-back set against Buffalo and Pittsburgh, respectively, over the weekend.