Mats Zucarello (c.) celebrates a goal in the first period that ties the game at 2.
TAMPA – At a critical juncture for Henrik Lundqvist‘s confidence, Rangers forwards Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot thundered a season-high three power-play goals past the Lightning Sunday night for a 4-3 comeback victory in front of their franchise goaltender, bouncing back from Friday’s 3-2 loss in Washington in backup Cam Talbot’s third straight start.
Lundqvist, who hadn’t played since a 5-3 home loss to the Islanders on Dec. 20, made 37 saves at Tampa Bay Times Forum – including 15 stops in the third period – and won in regulation for the first time since Dec. 5 in Buffalo, the day after signing his seven-year, $ 59.5 million contract extension.
He did allow three or more goals for the eighth straight start, surrendering an early 1-0 lead and also a third-period Valterri Filppula deflection to narrow New York’s 4-2 lead to one. However, Lundqvist also showed encouraging flash on three different sequences, denying initial shots and point-blank rebounds, including one by Tampa’s Martin St. Louis, who had run Lundqvist to the bench in his previous appearance here, a 5-0 embarrassment on Nov. 25.
Henrik Lundqvist returns after sitting the last three games, stopping 37 shots of 40 shots.
Sunday night, Tampa Bay’s players did their part in the Rangers’ win, playing like they still had a Christmas dinner hangover on the second night of a back-to-back and giving the puck away like it was on fire. Still, the Lightning (23-12-4) erased an early Rangers lead built on Rick Nash’s first goal in eight games to take a 2-1 advantage 16:05 into the first period.
That’s when the Rangers (19-19-2) responded with goals on each of their first three power plays, beginning less than three minutes later with Zuccarello’s ninth goal of the season, eight seconds into the first man advantage. The little Norwegian and Derek Stepan both had played with the flu on Friday and missed Saturday’s practice to recover.
Tied 2-2 entering the second period, the Blueshirts continued to pour it on. Zuccarello hit Kreider for his team-leading 10th goal of the season, a juke past immobile Tampa backup Anders Lindback 4:35 into the second. Then Pouliot one-timed Derick Brassard’s second assist past Lindback in front.
The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov elbows Dan Girardi as they battle for the puck in Sunday night’s game.
Ryan McDonagh also had two power play assists, and Stepan set up Nash’s early goal off an offensive zone takeaway, giving Lundqvist an opening game lead for the first time since Dec. 7 against New Jersey.
Rookie Rangers defenseman Conor Allen, 23, logged 15:47 of ice time in his NHL debut with his father in the stands – including an impressive 6:59 in the third period – with Anton Stralman (left wrist) and Marc Staal (concussion) both out of the lineup. Both Stralman and Staal, though, are optimistic to return in New York’s next game New Year’s Eve in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers.
Captain Ryan Callahan (left knee sprain) skated in the morning for a third straight day, and a second day in full gear, and had a little fun with a question about whether his timeline remains Jan. 7 or later for a return.
“Nothing’s changed with that,” Callahan said, adding the qualifier, “at this time.”