The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t allow a single loss to discredit what was otherwise a very successful homestand.
With the Lightning playing in the finale of a season-high five-game stint on home ice Saturday night, Steven Stamkos scored two goals, Matt Carle recorded two assists and Mathieu Garon made 27 saves, but as the Bolts fell to the New York Rangers by a 3-2 score in front of a sixth consecutive sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The loss snapped what was a five-game win streak for the Lightning, while New York rebounded from a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night to win for the third time in its past four games.
“We had chances,” Stamkos said. “But we just couldn’t capitalize on them. They capitalized on theirs, but you look at the big picture, and if we can take eight out of a possible 10 points, we’ll take that all the time.”
Tampa Bay closed out the home stretch with four wins in five games, however Saturday’s defeat marked the first loss on home ice for the Lightning, which are now 6-2-0 on the season.
Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin each had goals for the Rangers, which evened up their own record to 4-4-0 to get back to the .500 plateau.
Hagelin’s tally with 5:13 left in the third stood up as the game-winner, as he took a feed through the slot from Taylor Pyatt and poked the puck through Garon’s legs for a 3-1 lead.
Tampa Bay cut the deficit to one just 4:52 later when Stamkos’ second of the night found the back of the net after it beat Martin Biron, who turned aside 30 of 32 shots on the night.
The Lightning’s valiant effort fell short, however, in the final seconds, when Sami Salo’s slap shot from the point defelcted off a Rangers player and struck Bolts captain Vincent Lecavalier in the leg, leaving the Tampa Bay forward slow to get up.
Stamkos notched the game’s first goal while on the power play, as he beat Biron from the slot after taking a great pass from Carle at 4:22 of the second.
Stepan then tied it just 5:28 later when he cleaned up Pyatt’s rebound in front of the net and wristed one past Garon to even things at 1-1.
Nash made it 2-1 after skating through the crease and wrapping one around Garon’s pad just 3:04 into the third.
Garon appeared in his first start since January 22 at Carolina, a game in which he made 35 saves in a 4-1 victory. The time off in between, he said, did not effect his play, however, in Saturday’s loss.
“I felt okay and it’s tough sometimes after a few days off, but I felt good,” Garon said.
It appeared that way too, as Garon prevented the Rangers from scoring early, as he denied Marian Gaborik from in close during the first period, and made several additional key stops down the stretch to give Tampa Bay a chance to come back.
Unlike each of the previous four games on the homestand, Saturday’s wasn’t marked by the myriad of goals that has characterized the Lightning season thus far.
After scoring at least five goals in each of its past four contests, and despite coming in with an NHL-best 37 goals on the season, Tampa Bay managed just less than three for the first time this season.
“I don’t think we ran out of gas, but there were four or five 2-on-1 [chances] that just didn’t go our way,” Stamkos added. “It would have been nice to get a few of those, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and we have an important road trip coming up, so we’ll have to regroup.”