TAMPA – For the second time in two nights the Tampa Bay Lightning's inability to begin the game with steam cost them in a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Though the Bolts kept pace with the scored tied at two after the first period, poor puck management and an uncharacteristic penalty kill letdown led to back-to-back losses at home for the first time this season.
"We played one good period and that's not enough in this league," captain Martin St. Louis said. "We have to get back to pushing the pace and keeping the puck moving forward. We did that in the third period and gave ourselves a chance. It seems like since the break we've lost a little bit of our identity."
Radko Gudas and Victor Hedman were on the ice for three of New York's goals (two of those on the power play) and with Eric Brewer and Sami Salo missing from the lineup already there was not a lot of wiggle room on the blue line.
"We had seven defenseman in there tonight with a majority of them who do not have a lot of NHL games under their belt, including Gudas," said head coach Jon Cooper. "Gudas and Hedman have had better nights and we've expected so much from them as of late if they have an off night red flags start popping up. Sometimes you just lay a rotten egg."
Each team exchanged two goals in the first period, but the Rangers struck first at 4:30. Blueshirts' forward Derek Stepan intercepted a pass from Gudas in the Bolts' zone. He then sent the puck to Rick Nash across the slot who tapped it in.
Back-to-back tallies from Bolts' rookies Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat then gave Tampa Bay the 2-1 advantage. Johnson's first goal came after some tic-tac-toe passing with Teddy Purcell and Valtteri Filppula for the Lightning's fourth power-play goal in five games. Palat then added his own, which was his third point (one goal, two assists) in three matchups.
Gudas caught another bad break that resulted in a Rangers' goal with less than two minutes left in the opening frame. Mats Zuccarello was credited with the game-tier at 18:25, but the puck actually glided off of Gudas' skate and past the goal line to knot the game at two at the close of one.
New York added a little cushion in the second period with a pair of power-play markers to put them at 3-for-3 on the man advantage. Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot earned the goals, while Zucarello's assists on each were his second and third points, respectively.
"I think they had a good power play," Filppula said. "They have a lot of guys with skill; they made good plays and scored good goals. I'd say all credit to them."
In the third Filppula cut the Rangers' lead by on perhaps unintentionally. Purcell took a shot from the right face-off circle that was deflected by Filppula, who seemed to react at the last minute. The puck slipped by an unexpecting Henrik Lundqvist for a 4-3 score at 8:14 of the final frame.
With 52.8 seconds remaining Tampa Bay attempted a last-chance effort in the Rangers' zone with six attackers on the ice and Lindback pulled. However the opportunity was rather uneventful as the Bolts seemed to be keeping their puck out of their own net rather than creating scoring opportunities in the Rangers' end.
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay embarks on a 10-day road trip across Western Canada. They will face the Vancouver Canucks on New Year's Day, followed by contests versus the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. The Lightning do not return to the Times Forum until January 9.