Already the NHL's highest-scoring team, the Tampa Bay Lightning lived up to its reputation Monday night, scoring twice in 1:24 early in the third period to snap a 3-3 tie in a 6-3 victory over the Rangers at the Garden.
The Rangers also lived up to their reputation: Not a full team effort, from the goal crease out. An inability to make a defensive play or a save at key times against good teams.
It was the third loss to Tampa Bay (17-6-4) in 15 days for the Rangers, who were outscored 15-7 in the three games but led 3-2 in this one before losing their grip.
Even tied at 3 after 40 minutes, Ryan McDonagh said, "we can't find a way to come out with points. That's a big issue. We can't have half the team or a few guys playing well. Right now we don't have everybody, and it's going to be tough to win games if we don't have everybody."
McDonagh included himself among the players who, coach Alain Vigneault said, "picked a bad night to have an ordinary game." Henrik Lundqvist pointed at himself, too.
"Bottom line: I have to fight better to pick up pucks through screens," said Lundqvist, who allowed five goals (on 20 shots) for the fourth time this season (the sixth was an empty-netter). "You're not going to win games when I give up four or five goals. It was a battle the whole night to stick with it."
In the third period, Brett Connolly and Tyler Johnson each scored his second goal to end a two-game winning streak for the Rangers (11-9-4), who did have 35 shots on Ben Bishop, now 8-0-0 against them. Tampa Bay has won four straight.
For a fleeting moment, Martin St. Louis, who was honored for his 1,000th point in a pre-game ceremony, was the talk of the town. With the score tied at 2 on Jesper Fast's redirected pass from Derick Brassard at the right post -- Fast's second goal in two games -- St. Louis swept in a rebound from the right side on the power play at 9:24 of the second period.
With Tampa Bay on a five-on-three for 1:20, the Rangers allowed only one shot, then killed the 40-second five-on-four. That drew a standing ovation, which vanished quickly.
With the Rangers at even strength and weary, Dominic Moore hesitated and didn't clear the zone, and McDonagh couldn't poke the puck past the blue line. Matt Carley finished, zipping a shot inside the near post at 14:23. "That was the turning point," Vigneault said. "We should have been able to build off the momentum. Two veteran players [had] two clearing attempts; we don't do it."
In the third, St. Louis slashed Ondrej Palat and Tampa Bay went up 4-3 on Connolly's far-side wrister.
At the end of the first, the Lightning led 2-1. Kevin Klein's weak pass to the middle led to Johnson's rebound and a 1-0 deficit. Kevin Hayes cashed in a cross-crease pass from Carl Hagelin at 12:14, but Connolly juked Marc Staal in the high slot and wristed a shot that Lundqvist didn't see at 16:02.
Before the game, Vigneault had clamored for an A-game and limiting the line of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn. Only the last was accomplished, as the heavy-hitting trio went pointless. Didn't matter. Tampa Bay, deeper and opportunistic, had other answers.