No Mats Zuccarello. No Kevin Hayes. This is who the Rangers are for the remainder of the season after shipping away fan favorites Zuccarello and Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
In their first night together as the Rest-Of-The-Season Rangers, the Blueshirts took on the league’s top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team with 100 points through their first 63 games. The new-look Rangers gave the Lightning all they could handle, but in the end, Tampa Bay’s talent was too much and the Lightning won 4-3, in overtime, when Victor Hedman scored with 1:35 left sudden-death period.
The goal came despite the Rangers dominating the bulk of the third period against the Lightning, and afterward, the Rangers bemoaned the notion that they gave Tampa Bay a little too much respect in the opening period, when they fell behind 2-0 on goals by Tyler Johnson and former Ranger J.T. Miller.
“I felt, for the first time we were a little bit curious, or nervous, about how we were going to look without the guys we traded,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. “They looked — and listen, they’re the best team in the league, they’ve got the best record, they’re going to look good — but we made them look especially good, because we stood still… We played in awe.
“And I felt like once we got that goal to start the second, our whole mentality changed,’’ he said. “It felt like, on the bench, a bubble burst, and we kind of thought, ‘OK, we’re OK.’’’
The goal in question was one by Mika Zibanejad 56 seconds into the second period, when he banged in a backhander off a centering pass by Jimmy Vesey. The Rangers picked up their play significantly after that.
Brendan Lemieux, the one addition to the roster after general manager Jeff Gorton’s wheeling and dealing, made his Rangers debut at left wing on the third line, with center Lias Andersson and right wing Pavel Buchnevich. Lemieux, an agitating winger in the mold of his father, Claude Lemieux, stepped into the spot that had been previously occupied by Filip Chytil, who was a healthy scratch for the third time this season, and who, according to Quinn, is likely to be out for more than one game this time.
“He’s sat out two games so far this year; he’s going to sit out a few more,’’ Quinn said before the game. “Over the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal. It seems like it is now because we’re going through it right now. But when the dust settles, the season ends, and he comes back with the level of play we all anticipate him to come back with, this isn’t going to be talked about.’’
A roughing penalty against Lemieux early in the second period started a crazy sequence in which Buchnevich and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde fought. The Rangers ended up killing a penalty, only until Miller was called for a slashing penalty. That made it four-on-four for 1:28, and each team scored in that sequence, with former Ranger Dan Girardi making it 3-1 Tampa Bay at 2:53 and Vesey closing the Rangers' deficit to 3-2 at 3:23.
The Rangers tied the score at 3, when Boo Nieves clanged a shot off the left wing post and the puck ricocheted off Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and in at 14:14 of the second.
“It would have been nice to get the two points there, but you know what, I don’t know this team very well, but I’m proud of us, of our effort tonight,’’ Lemieux said. “Our first period [was bad], but after that, we played some good hockey to get back in there, with a really good hockey team. So it was a good effort and if we get a full 60 [minutes], you never know what happens.’’