TAMPA — Oh, the difference two weeks and a trip to Sweden can make. There might as well have been a different Lightning team on the ice Thursday than the last time they played the Rangers.
Two weeks ago in New York, Tampa Bay put up a poor showing, playing without the confidence and swagger that made it so good last year in a 4-1 loss.
Then the Lightning went to Sweden, pulled the pieces of their game together in two wins over the Sabres and returned home to another shot at the Rangers. This time it was a blowout, a 9-3 Lightning win in which the Amalie Arena fans chanted, “We want 10!”
No one expects nine goals, but this was the highly skilled, very-capable-of-scoring Lightning team so many had picked as a preseason Stanley Cup favorite. But it was this season’s version.
“The thing we have to keep reminding ourselves is these goals came off of playing the right way,” said Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a goal and an assist.
After that first Rangers game, Ryan McDonagh said the Lightning were playing without confidence in their system. He reiterated that before Thursday’s game, that sometimes players got out of position and even looked confused.
Four practices and two games in Stockholm addressed that. The biggest thing players pointed to coming out of the trip was the complete games they had put together.
Coach Jon Cooper preaches process, and the players had addressed the process.
On Thursday, the Lightning stuck with that complete game but added more scoring. Their hard-work skill was on display rather than what captain Steven Stamkos had called their free-wheeling mind-set after an embarrassing 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Game No. 3.
“Our skill takes over when we work hard,” Shattenkirk said. “When you see that, that’s when you see the team everyone knows us as. We definitely don’t want to be the free-wheeling Tampa Bay Lightning.”
When the Lightning play strong on the forecheck, that creates scoring opportunities. The forecheck leads to ticktacktoe passes and pretty goals.
The Lightning scored every which way Thursday. There were five power-play goals, including two tips from Alex Killorn on a three-point night. Stamkos (three points) scored from his office, a power-play one-timer at the left circle. Yanni Gourde (three points) landed one top shelf. Ondrej Palat split two Rangers to get to the net and score. Nikita Kucherov (four points) landed a wrister on a power play.
They Lightning have played three very good games in a row, all wins, and seem to be pulling themselves together after a shaky start to the season. They took time to make tweaks to their game and are seeing the benefits.
It wasn’t just the early losses that had bothered them, but how they lost. The Lightning got outworked. They took undisciplined penalties and had a hard time sticking to their system. These three wins haven’t shown those issues.
Often, coming out of a long road trip can catch up to a team. It is nice to be home, but that feeling can also backfire.
“It’s nice to play in front of your home crowd,” Killorn said. “We had four days and a couple good practices. We had a great start, which helped out.”
That start featured four goals in the opening 6:42, three of them in 61 seconds. You could say everything was clicking for a team that entered the season as a Stanley Cup favorite.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Schenn 1 (Point, Kucherov), 2:39. 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 4 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 5:41 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 6 (Hedman, Killorn), 6:20 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Palat 6 (McDonagh), 6:42. 5, N.Y. Rangers, Kreider 5 (Panarin, Lindgren), 14:33. Penalties—Lemieux, NYR, (cross checking), 5:36 DeAngelo, NYR, (slashing), 5:36 Schenn, TB, (holding), 11:09 Killorn, TB, (hooking), 18:40.
Second Period—6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 6 (Hedman, Kucherov), 7:07 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Maroon 4 (Gourde, Shattenkirk), 10:19. 8, Tampa Bay, Shattenkirk 5 (Paquette, Gourde), 14:17. 9, Tampa Bay, Killorn 5 (Hedman, Stamkos), 19:01 (pp). Penalties—N.Y. Rangers bench, served by Panarin (too many men on the ice), 6:32 Paquette, TB, (boarding), 7:35 Johnson, TB, (roughing), 10:48 Lindgren, NYR, (roughing), 10:48 Lemieux, NYR, served by Panarin, (interference), 18:55 McDonagh, TB, Major (fighting), 18:55 Lemieux, NYR, Major (fighting), 18:55 Haley, NYR, (slashing), 19:16 Haley, NYR, (roughing), 19:16 Schenn, TB, (roughing), 19:16 Haley, NYR, Misconduct (misconduct), 19:16.
Third Period—10, N.Y. Rangers, Chytil 5 (Panarin, Hajek), 2:22 (sh). 11, Tampa Bay, Gourde 5 (Johnson, Sergachev), 12:24 (pp). 12, N.Y. Rangers, Chytil 6 (Buchnevich), 15:28. Penalties—Lindgren, NYR, (tripping), 9:40 Fast, NYR, major (high sticking), 11:49 Sergachev, TB, Misconduct (misconduct), 17:08 Lemieux, NYR, Misconduct (misconduct), 17:08 Maroon, TB, served by Point, (high sticking), 18:35 Maroon, TB, Misconduct (misconduct), 18:35 Haley, NYR, Misconduct (misconduct), 18:35.
Shots on Goal—N.Y. Rangers 5-8-10_23. Tampa Bay 16-12-17_45. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Rangers 0 of 4. Tampa Bay 5 of 8. Goalies—N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 4-3-1 (19 shots-15 saves), Georgiev 4-4-1 (26-21). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 7-4-0 (23-20). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:41. Referees—Trevor Hanson, Ian Walsh. Linesmen—Darren Gibbs, Brad Kovachik.