NEW YORK — Someone joked to Ryan Malone that he should now be known as "The Closer."
"But only after 10 rounds," the Lightning wing said.
It was a cute one-liner considering Malone's goal in the 11th round of a shootout Thursday night gave the Lightning a badly needed 4-3 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"A very big two points for us," Malone said.
Not only did those points erase the ugly taste left from Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders, they lifted Tampa Bay, 20-10-5 and with 45 points, into first place in the Southeast Division.
The Lightning and Capitals have the same points — the Capitals got one for a shootout loss to the Penguins on Thursday — but Tampa Bay gets the nod because of fewer games played. This is the first time the Lightning has been in first more than 30 games into a season since March 11, 2007.
"It means that when we're going after something, we get it," coach Guy Boucher said. "It shows how much character the guys have."
It was not a classic win by any means. The Rangers, who hadn't played since Saturday, had the Lightning, playing its third game in that stretch, on its heels almost all night. They had a 37-24 shot advantage, including 17-7 in the third period, in which Derek Stepan tied the score 3-3 with 8:42 left.
Vinny Lecavalier's fourth goal of the season and first in 11 games had given the Lightning a 3-2 edge with 5:18 left in the second period. But the catalyst for Tampa Bay was Marty St. Louis.
His 14th goal of the season 2 minutes into the first period came after he picked off a pass. He picked off another and sent a backhand pass through his legs to set up Steven Stamkos' 27th goal with 1:06 left in the first period to tied the score 2-2.
"He took charge, and he led the team," Boucher said of the wing, who has eight points with three goals in his past three games.
And Dan Ellis was in support as he outdueled New York's Henrik Lundqvist with 34 saves in the game and nine in the shootout. But after Victor Hedman and Adam Hall scored on Tampa Bay's first two shootout shots, eight players failed until Malone's sizzling wrist shot under the crossbar.
"Just hit the net, pretty simple," Malone said of his strategy. "I wasn't going to come down and make a lot of moves; nothing too fancy."
"I didn't even know it went in," Ellis said. "He didn't celebrate."
Asked why not, Malone said, "I waited a little bit. I looked around, and no one was coming. It was delayed."
The roar he got from his teammates when he entered the locker room made up for it.
|Lightning wins shootout 3-2|
|Lightning wins shootout 3-2|
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 14, 2:00. 2, N.Y. Rangers, Fedotenko 6 (Boyle), 11:16. 3, N.Y. Rangers, Frolov 7 (Anisimov, Drury), 11:28. 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 27 (St. Louis), 18:54. Penalties—Kubina, TB (tripping), 12:25.
Second Period—5, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 4 (Kubina, Clark), 14:42. Penalties—Girardi, NYR (tripping), :26.
Third Period—6, N.Y. Rangers, Stepan 10 (Dubinsky, Gilroy), 11:18. Penalties—None.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 3 (Hedman G, Hall G, Stamkos NG, Kubina NG, Gagne NG, Lecavalier NG, St. Louis NG, Ritola NG, Moore NG, Purcell NG, Malone G), N.Y. Rangers 2 (Christensen G, Stepan NG, Zuccarello G, Anisimov NG, Dubinsky NG, Boyle NG, Rozsival NG, Frolov NG, Drury NG, Gilroy NG, Staal NG). Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-7-7-3—24. N.Y. Rangers 10-10-17-0—37. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1; N.Y. Rangers 0 of 1. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ellis 10-5-5 (37 shots-34 saves). N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 14-12-2 (24-21). A—18,200 (18,200).