Rangers Rev Up Compete Level in Tampa Bay

RANGERS 2, LIGHTNING 1 (OT)

If you follow the Rangers and you’re level-headed, you don’t turn cartwheels over their efficient 2-1 overtime win in Tampa Thursday night.

But, you might exhale a bit. The Blueshirts, who hadn’t played a nearly good-enough 60 minutes in a game this season, somehow hit their highs in compete level, defensive commitment, and completeness against the hottest, most dangerous team in the league to this point.

This came out of nowhere.

Thoughts:

1. The Rangers, for years, did this regularly. They’d start a game with that “Road Warrior” mentality and carry it through. They were the league’s best road team last season for this reason. So, they started Thursday with a nearly perfect “road” period and though it dipped slightly in the second, it still marked their two best consecutive periods of the season. Then, in a very strong third, the Rangers outshot the Lightning, 9-4.

Again, out of nowhere.

2. Still, it was up for grabs, at 1-1 through two, and then through three, because Henrik Lundqvist made some strong saves, as did Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy into OT.

3. That’s when J.T. Miller won it. First, Miller was beaten by Nikita Kucherov. But Miller stuck with it in the defensive zone and thwarted a Kucherov wrap-around. He got the puck back from Kevin Shattenkirk, swooped in behind the Lightning defenders with a burst of speed we haven’t seen enough, lowered his shoulder in a power move, then patiently held the puck before firing it past Vasilevskiy.

4. This comes after an emotional win over Vegas, one in which the Rangers struggled again in the first period. Yet with this one strong game, the Rangers are 4-2-2 in their last eight, with points in six of those games.

5. Speaking of miles better, that was Ryan McDonagh’s game in Tampa. Miles better.

6. I’ve noticed, despite the overall consistencies, a lot of forwards starting to play well individually and collectively. At least through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone. That trend continued Thursday, especially for Miller, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. And they’re doing it with an edge.

7. Prior to the fracas between Zuccarello and Viktor Hedman, hilarity aside, we saw a good example of the Rangers doing a lot of dirty stuff around the front of the net. Moreso, the play where Jesper Fast prevented a second-period goal behind Lundqvist was a great example of the Rangers’ defensemen playing the man and not fishing for pucks. In this case, Nick Holden and Steven Kampfer.

8. The defensemen still have work to do and so do the forwards in the defensive zone. But they showed a lot of snarl in this game and closed on the Lightning’s skilled forwards. Baby steps.

9. Probably the biggest and best news for the Rangers is Lundqvist’s play since returning from his week off. Let’s face it, he’s going to have to be really good, much better than he’s been, for this team to go anywhere. Oh, he also assisted on the winner, and according to Kenny Albert, now has two career OT-winning assists.

10. Lundqvist got the call – the correct call – when he was bumped on an apparent Lightning goal. Tampa Bay challenged, and why not? There are no set standards on what isn’t goaltender interference, and anyway, how can you have a definitive replay or challenge decision when the whole thing is a judgment call? The on-ice officials and NHL video review crew combined to get it right. Now about that Dwight King interference play back in June, 2014…

11. Finally, all this chatter about Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk being in the Rangers’ sights? Forget it. Not happening.