TAMPA, Fla. – The New York Rangers had posted only one regulation loss in their previous 14 games entering Saturday night’s contest, but goaltender Mike Smith was just what the Tampa Bay Lightning needed for the win. Making 20 saves, Smith posted his first shutout with the Lightning and added an assist to lead the club to a 3-0 win.
As Tampa Bay recorded their third consecutive win, three different goal-scorers got on the board. Alexandre Picard notched the game-winner in the final minute of the second period, and Martin St. Louis added a power play goal in the third. Michel Ouellet connected for a late empty-netter to close out the scoring.
Early in the contest St. Louis crashed towards the net for an attempt against Henrik Lundqvist and the first shot of the night. Picking off a Rangers pass, Vincent Lecavalier moved the puck ahead to Jussi Jokinen. After skating down the left wing Jokinen dished a pass across to St. Louis for a shot to the five-hole, but Lundqvist closed the pads for the save.
Lundqvist was forced to make a pair of strong saves minutes later, stopping a shot by Jason Ward before denying a tip-in attempt by Jeff Halpern. Accepting a feed from Halpern, Ward skated hard to the top of the crease and tried to get a shot off. Lundqvist batted the puck away on the play.
Shortly after the save Filip Kuba fired the puck from the point through traffic in the shooting lane. Halpern deflected the shot as it approached the net, but Lundqvist fell into a split and made a glove save.
With the period winding down Smith made one of his first big saves, blocking a slapshot from the point by Christian Backman. Sean Avery tried to put the rebound to the open side of the net behind Smith, but the Lightning netminder reached across the goal line to get a piece of the puck.
Early in the second Lecavalier tested Lundqvist with a slapshot from the top of the right wing circle. Although the puck deflected on its way to the net, Lundqvist reached out to get a toe on the shot.
With play swirling in front of the net shortly after, Lecavalier backhanded the puck from behind the net. Both St. Louis and Dan Boyle tried to get shots at the rebound, but Lundqvist dropped in his crease to cover the puck and halt play.
Lundqvist continued to hold off the Lightning attack during a power play in the middle of the period. Boyle slapped a shot from the point, but Lundqvist covered the puck before Jokinen could get the rebound at the bottom of the slot.
Within minutes Smith responded with a pad save against Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers winger cut down the right wing and to the front of the net, but Smith held off the shot.
Smith later made a few quick saves on a sequence that started with a shot by Scott Gomez, New York’s leading point scorer. Gomez put a shot on net from the left faceoff circle before trying to follow up the rebound with teammate Ryan Callahan. As the pair of Rangers tried to bang at the puck, Smith held his ground to keep them off the scoreboard.
As New York skated with a power play late in the period, Lecavalier forced a partial shorthanded breakaway. Fighting off Fedor Tyutin as he skated down the right side, Lecavalier pulled the puck around the defenseman and turned to the front of the net. Lecavalier got off a shot as Tyutin pulled him down, but Lundqvist reached out into his crease for the save.
Lundqvist’s effort wouldn’t be enough to hold off Picard late in the period however, .
As the clubs skated four-on-four, Mathieu Darche put a quick shot on net after skating down the right wing. Halpern pulled Lundqvist out to the top of his crease as he fired a second attempt, but Picard came up from behind the play to put the loose puck into the open net. The goal was the second posted by the Tampa Bay blueliner this season.
Posting an assist on the play, Halpern extended his current point streak to four games. Halpern has recorded seven points (three goals, four assists) in that span. Darche picked up the secondary assist, posting his fourth helper in four games.
With the Lightning skating into the third in the lead, Smith opened the period with a pair of saves on slapshots by Blair Betts and Michal Rozsival. St. Louis followed up the saves by converting a power play at 6:40 of the period.
Although Lundqvist saved Boyle slapshot from the point, Jokinen collected the rebound and made a pass back to St. Louis at the left side of the crease. St. Louis’ initial shot was blocked Rozsival, but the Tampa Bay winger put his own rebound over Lundqvist as he stretched across his crease.
St. Louis has recorded points in four consecutive games, totaling two goals and five points during the stretch.
Looking to cut the lead in half, the Rangers’ Fredrik Sjostrom gathered the puck behind the net after getting it away from Smith. Sjostrom tried to wrap the puck around the left post, but Smith got back to his net in time to dive across the goal line and reach out for a save with his stick.
Minutes later Picard came to the aid of his goaltender after Jagr intercepting a clearing attempt at the top of the slot. Jagr aimed a shot at the open net, but Picard slid feet-first through the crease to make the save.
With the game clock ticking down, New York pulled Lundqvist for the extra man but the Lightning connected on the opportunity. Smith fired a shot the length of the ice, but as it leaned to the left Ouellet skated to the puck to pop it into the open goal.
The goal stood as Ouellet’s 15th of the season, his eighth goal during his previous 11 games. Ouellet has connected in nine of those outings, recording two four-game point streaks and gathering 12 points.
“The whole theme, and it’s gone on for a long time here, is we’re defending very well,” head coach John Tortorella said. “I think we gave up 10 chances tonight… but we’re defending very well.”
With the helper on the final goal, Smith picked up his first career assist. Smith made 20 saves to record his third shutout of the season, the sixth of his career and first with Tampa Bay.
“It’s just a bonus,” Smith said of the shutout. “The most important thing, we’re playing well as a team and we’re finding ways to win.”
The Lightning out-shot the Rangers, 30-20, with Lecavalier leading all skaters with seven shots.
Following a trio of wins, Tampa Bay returns to the road for a three-game trip. The Lightning open the trip with back-to-back games starting on Wednesday, March 19 (7:00p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) against the Buffalo Sabres.