After missing four games with a sprained wrist, Tampa Bay's No. 1 goaltender, Ben Bishop, returned and didn't miss a beat Tuesday night. He was sensational for the Lightning, which scored two goals just nine seconds apart early in the second period and snapped the Rangers' three-game winning streak with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden.
Before the game, coach Alain Vigneault called the 6-7 Bishop, who was 22-5-3 with a 1.86 goals-against average, the Lightning's best player. Tuesday night, he put on a show with 33 saves, and lifted his career record to 5-0 against the Rangers.
"He uses his size really well," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 23 saves. "You have to give him some credit; we did a lot of good things and created a lot of big chances in front. Even when he doesn't see the puck, his body is so big, it hits him, but he was also making good reads."
The Rangers led 1-0 midway through the first on Brad Richards' 12th goal, but things suddenly turned early in the second period. Bishop gloved Ryan McDonagh's shot from the point, but in a battle in front, Ryan Callahan's stick struck Bishop's mask and the goalie dropped like a stone, drawing a penalty just 29 seconds in. Callahan protested, to no avail, and the Tampa Bay power play clicked.
"I told him [the ref] that [defenseman Eric] Brewer lifted my stick there," Callahan said. "The play was dead, so I'm not holding my stick too tight. Even Brewer apologized and said it was him, so it was a tough one to take."
Victor Hedman's blast from the point, a shot that Lundqvist said he picked up too late after it deflected off Brian Boyle, beat him at 1:10. Nine seconds later, the Rangers were caught napping. Benoit Pouliot went up ice, and Radko Gudas found Nikita Kucherov between John Moore and Michael Del Zotto for a breakaway. He deked and slid it under Lundqvist, tying the franchise record for the fastest two goals in Lightning history.
"Two simple reads," said Vigneault, who called the winning goal "very disappointing, not to [mention] frustrating" because the team should have been aware of the setup, having looked at it on video before the game, and the Lightning "tried it three shifts before."
But the Blueshirts, who scored 20 goals, including five powerplay goals, in the previous five games, felt they had numerous opportunities to tie or win. "We kept coming at him [Bishop], kept creating, getting chances," Marc Staal said. "We were just unable to get any by him."
In fact, the Rangers' sixth-ranked power play had two opportunities in the third. With 4:39 left, Alex Killorn tripped McDonagh, and the Rangers controlled play for the first 1:18, but Bishop stopped Derick Brassard in front and Brassard's setup for Pouliot in front was deflected. The first man-advantage came with 13:23 left, when Gudas tripped Richards. McDonagh's drive hit a post, and Bishop stopped Mats Zuccarello in close.
The Rangers were 19-2-1 when scoring first and 12-2-1 when leading after the first period, but both those marks slid by the boards. Richards' goal extended his point streak to six games. But Bishop shut the door after that.