Mika Zibanejad set up many of Chris Kreider’s team-leading 19 goals this season. On Sunday, it was Kreider getting assists on each of Zibanejad’s three scores.
“First game of 2022, let’s flip that,” Zibanejad said of his play with Kreider. “He has that in his game as well. He’s a goal-scorer, but he makes great passes and you have to be ready for them. That was the case today.”
Ryan Strome also scored and Adam Fox had two assists to help New York win for the third time in five games (3-1-1). The Rangers beat the Lightning for the second time in three days after a 4-3 shootout victory at Tampa, Florida, on Friday night.
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) is congratulated by teammates Chris Kreider (20) and Kaapo Kakko (24) after scoring his third goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan 2, 2022, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
New York was without star forward Artemi Panarin, who was placed in COVID-19 protocols Sunday.
“All of our players stepped up,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s very satisfying. You play a good team like that over there, they come at you, they have a lot of talent. … Shesty played a great game, power play did its job. Everybody was ready to play today and compete.”
Shesterkin had 18 saves in the first period, 11 in the second and nine in the third for his fourth career shutout. He improved to 15-4-2 with a 2.09 goals-against average this season.
“I need to play even better than I did today,” Shesterkin said through an interpreter.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, playing for the first time in 12 days after coming off COVID-19 protocols earlier in the day, had 17 saves as the Lightning lost their third straight (0-2-1) after winning nine of 10.
“It’s not like the guys weren’t trying, we just didn’t generate anything,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We were off. Give credit to the Rangers, they did a hell of a job. We did get chances, and the goalie was able to see them. We were a step slower, the reaction time was a little off. When that happens, this is the result.”
Zibanejad, who had the only goal of the shootout Friday, completed his hat trick late in the second period to put the Rangers up 4-0. He deflected Tampa Bay’s outlet pass in its defensive zone and charged toward the net. The puck came to Kreider, who spun way to the left and sent a pass that Zibanejad deflected past Vasilevskiy with 3:07 remaining for his 11th of the season.
The Lightning challenged for high-sticking on the play, but the goal stood after a review.
“When you’re in that kind of momentum, you just seem to make the right decisions of where to go and pucks find you,” Zibanejad said.
It was Zibanejad’s his first hat trick since April 25 against Buffalo. He scored three goals three times last season, including a pair of three-goal, three-assist games.
The Rangers came in eighth in the NHL on the power play at 23.9% and went 2 for 3 against the Lightning.
With Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev off for hooking, Zibanejad got the Rangers on the scoreboard at 7:44 of the first as he fired a rising shot from the top of the left circle past Vasilevskiy into the top left corner.
Nearly five minutes later, the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 power play when Zibanejad’s pass for Kaapo Kakko on the right side was deflected by Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh past Vasilevskiy with 7:23 left.
Strome made it 3-0 when he fired a shot from between the circles over Vasilevskiy’s glove for his seventh with 5:07 remaining in the opening period.
Shesterkin had six of his 18 saves of the first in the final minute, including a reaching glove stop on a slap shot by Sergachev in which the goalie ended up sprawled faced down in front of the goal with 16 seconds left, drawing chants of “I-gor! I-gor!” from the home crowd.
Lightning D Erik Cernak was activated off IR and rejoined the lineup after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury. … C Anthony Cirelli also came off COVID-19 protocols before the game. RW Taylor Raddysh also came off protocols and was assigned to the taxi squad. … D Zach Bogosian missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
In addition to Panarin, the Rangers were without D Patrik Nemeth due to an undisclosed illness. Rookie Zac Jones entered the lineup and made his season debut. … G Alexandar Georgiev, removed from COVID-19 protocols one day earlier, was Shesterkin’s backup. C Kevin Rooney, D Ryan Lindgren and D Jarred Tinordi remained in COVID-19 protocols.
Lightning: At Columbus on Tuesday night to wrap a two-game trip.
Rangers: Host Edmonton on Monday night before a five-game trip.