Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan probably wishes every game could come against his former New York Rangers teammates.
Callahan, who played eight years with the Rangers before being traded to the Lightning with 20 games remaining in the 2013-14 season, scored two goals against his former team to pace Tampa Bay in a 4-3 victory over New York at Amalie Arena.
Callahan also scored twice in the Bolts’ first meeting with the Rangers nine days earlier in his return to Madison Square Garden.
“He’d be leading the league in scoring if he played the Rangers every night,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper quipped.
Tampa Bay (15-6-2, 32 points) plays the Rangers three times in a 15 day span.
Having already won the first game 5-1 in New York, a sellout crowd of 19,204 watched the Bolts grab game two.
“That was as loud and rowdy as I’ve heard the building this year,” Cooper said. “They were into it.”
Callahan’s second goal was set up by a beautiful move from Steven Stamkos in the second period. The Lightning captain took the puck behind the net and wrapped around the goal, sending a pass into the slot for Callahan, who snapped a wrist shot past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) for a 3-2 Bolts advantage.
Stamkos and Alex Killorn were credited with assists on the goal, which came at 10:17 of the second.
“When [Tampa Bay vice president and general manager] Steve (Yzerman) made that deal, we needed a Ryan Callahan on our team,” Cooper said. “He’s delivered since the day that we acquired him.”
The Lightning improve to 12-0-1 this season when leading after two periods.
“These are the games at home that get you into the playoffs, get you a good seed in the playoffs is when you have those leads going into the third period,” Callahan said.
Callahan tied the game 2-2 late in the first period following a double minor penalty assessed to the Rangers’ Rick Nash for a high-stick on Ondrej Palat and roughing Tyler Johnson. The Lightning capitalized on the first power play, Jason Garrison cranking a one-timer from the blue line and Callahan sneaking in from the side of goal to tip the puck into the net, Garrison and Stamkos assisting.
“He earns everything he gets,” Stamkos said. “He’s a type of a guy, when we traded for him, we knew exactly what we were going to get every night, a guy that’s willing to sacrifice his body to make plays, whether it’s blocking shots, scoring in front of the net…He’s willing to go in those areas, and when you do, you usually get rewarded.”
Dating back to last season, the Lightning improve to 13-0-0 when Callahan scores a goal.
Stamkos netted his team-leading 15th goal of the season and No. 248 for his career to put the Lightning ahead early.
At 5:25 of the first period, Stamkos lasered a slap shot from the right circle on the power play over the shoulder of Lundqvist and under the crossbar, Valtteri Filppula and Callahan assisting.
New York (9-8-4, 22 points) answered a little more than three and a half minutes later to tie the score. Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr fanned on a pass in his own zone and Nash pounced on the loose puck, creating a two-on-one. Nash fired a cross-ice feed to Mats Zuccarello, who one-timed a shot past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.
A trouble trend for Tampa Bay: a different Lightning defenseman has given up the puck in his own zone four-straight games, leading to an opponent goal.
The Rangers took their only lead of the game following a power-play goal at 11:04 of the first period. Former Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle scored his first of the season, receiving a pass from Derek Stepan in the left circle and beating Bishop with a one-timer.
Nikita Kucherov scored the eventual game-winner and gave Tampa Bay a two-goal lead at 9:38 of the third period, redirecting Matt Carle’s blue line shot with his skate past Lundqvist to put the Bolts up 4-2.
“You look at a lot of his goals last year, they were all from outside,” Cooper said. “Now he’s getting a lot of his goals right there in front of the net. That kid’s learning how to play in the NHL and doing a heck of a job for us.”
Nash netted his 15th of the season with 7:11 remaining in the game to close the gap, but the Lightning dug in for the win.
“You hold on and find a way to win these close games, that’s a good trait to have,” Stamkos said.
Martin St. Louis made his first return to Tampa Bay since the trade that sent him to the Rangers and Callahan to the Lightning last season. A majority of the sellout Amalie Arena crowd stood and applauded when a video tribute for St. Louis was played on the scoreboard in the first period.
“It was great, brought back a lot of memories,” said St. Louis, who skated on the ice during the tribute and saluted the fans. “I felt I wanted to give them the thank you that they deserved.”
St. Louis entered the game needing two points for 1,000 in his career but was shutout in his quest to record the milestone in the city he played in for 14 seasons.
“It was nice to keep him out of the net tonight,” Bishop said. “I thought the guys did a good job all around.”
Bishop, who stopped 16-of-17 shots, improves to 7-0-0 in his career versus the Rangers.
“One game coming up against them next week, so hopefully we can make it 8-0,” Bishop said, referring to the Bolts’ return to MSG on Dec. 1.
The Lightning have two days off before returning to Amalie Arena Saturday, November 29, for a meeting with the Ottawa Senators to cap a three-game homestand. The Senators beat the Lightning 3-2 in overtime at Amalie Arena in the second game of the season.