The Rangers defeated an opponent in playoff position for the first time in seven tries this season with a 4-3 shootout win over the NHL-leading Lightning on Friday at Amalie Arena. They also avoided a third straight loss amid their roughest stretch of the season.
“It’s huge,” said forward Barclay Goodrow, who had two goals in the win over his former club, with which he won two Stanley Cups. “Through the first 32 games, I think there’s a lot to be happy about. I think we have pretty high expectations of ourselves, so I think we also realize there’s a lot more we need to improve on and get better at. But I think as a whole, we’re in a pretty good spot through the first part of the season.
“To be able to come back after that Panthers game, we felt like we let that game slip away, kind of gave them two points. To rebound and get the two [Friday night] in a pretty tough building to play in, it was good.”
One of those necessary improvements has hung over the Rangers since the start of the season: defending leads. Friday, despite winning in the shootout, the Rangers struggled to hold on to a lead in yet another game.
The contest was tied on three separate occasions, with the Lightning evening the score later in the second and third periods — ultimately forcing overtime.
“Obviously, you want to hold leads when you have them,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “Obviously, we haven’t done the best job of that recently. But, you know, I think it’s still a learning curve. Games like [Friday night] definitely help with that learning.”
The victory was also the Rangers’ third shootout game of the season and second in the last three games, and improved their record in shootouts to 2-1. They last lost to the Golden Knights at Madison Square Garden just before the holiday recess, after defeating the Devils in mid-November.
Top-pair defenseman Ryan Lindgren is eligible to come off the COVID-19 protocol for Sunday’s rematch with the Lightning at the Garden after missing both games of the Florida road trip.
Considering Libor Hajek had struggled in a top-four role next to Fox, head coach Gerard Gallant opted to bump Patrik Nemeth from the third pair to play alongside the reigning Norris Trophy winner Friday. Hajek skated with rookie Nils Lundkvist, a pairing that has just 106 combined games of experience.
The Fox-Nemeth pair wasn’t anything special, but it worked under the circumstances. With seven shot attempts for and 19 against, the duo got the job done.
“Felt pretty comfortable,” Fox said of being paired with Nemeth. “He’s been around a while and he’s a steady player. I think obviously it’s always a little adjustment when you play with someone for so long and go to new partners. He’s a steady player, you know what you’re getting out of him and he keeps it pretty simple. So it was pretty easy to read off of.”
Backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev cleared COVID protocol and will be available for the game Sunday. As a result, Keith Kinkaid was assigned to the taxi squad, while Adam Huska was sent back to AHL Hartford.
After their game Sunday, the Rangers will play host to the Oilers on Monday before embarking on a five-game road trip — their longest of the season. Beginning the trip at Vegas, the Rangers will then face all three California teams before traveling to Philadelphia to square off with the Flyers on Jan. 15.