Rangers hold on to defeat Lightning

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Rangers needed the old Henrik Lundqvist in the third period on Sunday. And for the first time in weeks, they got him. Behind a standout effort in the final 20 minutes from the struggling former Vezina Trophy winner, the Rangers turned back a late push by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 victory at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"He gave us a chance to win, especially in the third when they had a real strong push," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "He made some big saves."

In his first start in four games, Lundqvist made 37 saves, including 15 in the third period, as the Rangers held on to what had looked like a convincing win through two periods against the weary Lightning. Tampa Bay outshot the Rangers, 16-6, in the final period. Lundqvist allowed three or more goals for the eighth straight start, but said he was encouraged about "the process."

"It's always a good thing when you win," he said. "That's the (best) way to gain confidence."

There was plenty of confidence-building for several Rangers on Sunday. Center Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists, left wing Benoit Pouliot continued his newfound scoring touch and the Rangers went 3-for-3 on power-plays.

The Lightning (23-12-4) entered the game 4-0-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season, but they appeared weary in the first two periods against a Rangers team that last played on Friday.

"We played one good period and that's not enough in this league," Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis said. "We have to get back to pushing the pace and keeping the puck moving forward and give ourselves a chance."

Tampa Bay, which lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, failed to gain a point for the first time in seven home games.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper acknowledged that Tampa Bay played a "tough one" on Saturday but said his team's problem on Sunday was execution.

"I think the guys worked hard, but we didn't work very smart, to be honest," he said. "I don't think I've seen us mismanage pucks more in 39 games. It's something we haven't really done all year and it was disappointing to see the way we managed the puck in the first two periods."

New York (19-19-2) assumed control with a high-energy, two-goal second period -- both on power plays -- as the Lightning allowed numerous odd-man rushes.

Rangers center Chris Kreider took full advantage less than five minutes into the period when he skated past two defensemen to slip his 10th goal of the season past goalie Anders Lindback (25 saves). Zuccarello and defenseman Ryan McDonagh were credited with assists.

Pouliot poked in his seventh of the season from the goal mouth for a 4-2 New York lead with 12:09 left in the period. Center Derick Brassard set up the goal with a cross-ice pass, and Zuccarrello also had an assist.

New York took a 1-0 lead at 4:30 of the first period when left winger Rick Nash scored his seventh of the season. Nash raced to the left of the crease to tap in a pass from center Derek Stepan, who snared a mid-ice turnover from Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas.

Lightning center Tyler Johnson tied the score at 1 with a power-play goal with 9:19 left in the period. Johnson notched his 10th goal of the season when right winger Teddy Purcell drew two Rangers in the slot and dished left to his open teammate. Purcell and Valtteri Filppula earned assists.

Left winger Ondrej Palat gave Tampa Bay its first lead by ripping in a long rebound from Lundqvist off a Gudas shot. Assists went to Gudas and defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote on the goal that gave the Lightning a 2-1 edge at 16:05 of the first.

New York countered to tie the score five seconds into a power play at 18:25 of the opening period. Zuccarello camped in front of Lindback, freed himself from Gudas and tapped in a pass from Brassard. McDonagh earned an assist after beginning the play following a face-off win by center Brad Richards.

Tampa Bay generated increased energy early in the third period, pulling within 4-3 with 11:46 left in the game when Filppula redirected in a blast from Purcell. Defenseman Dmitry Korobov notched his first NHL point with an assist.

"We were a little bit nervous there in the third period," Zuccarrello said. "But right there, Hank was our best player."

NOTES: LW Benoit Pouliot scored a goal in four of the Rangers' last five games to raise his season total to seven. ... Rangers LW Rick Nash ended a seven-game goalless streak in the first period. ... Lightning D Eric Brewer, who missed three games with an upper-body injury, is eligible to come off injured reserve. ... Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist started Sunday after being benched for rookie Cam Talbot (8-3-0, 1.72) the previous three games. Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy-winner in 2011-2012, allowed at least three goals in his eighth consecutive start. He made 37 saves against the Lightning. ... Rangers D Conor Allen, 23, made his NHL debut, playing 15:47 and 6:59 in the hectic third period. ... Rangers D Marc Staal, out since suffering a concussion on Dec. 7, practiced Saturday but did not play Sunday. ... Rangers RW Ryan Callahan practiced in full uniform for the first time since spraining the MCL in his left knee in early December, but he remains out indefinitely. ... Lightning C Valterri Filppula has four goals and six assists in his last six games. ... Lightning RW Martin St. Louis had a six-game point streak and four-game goal streak snapped.
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