The Swedes were sweet.
On a night in which the Rangers did not play crisp hockey, Carl Hagelin and Henrik Lundqvist were the reasons the Blueshirts left the Garden with a 5-1 win over the Lightning on Sunday. The Rangers are over .500 (6-5-0) for the first time this season.
Hagelin scored two goals and Lundqvist made 19 saves. Ryan Callahan’s unassisted semi-breakaway goal at 15:13 of the first was the game-winner, and Arron Asham potted his first goal as a Ranger with seven minutes left. Rick Nash scored his third with 8.3 seconds left.
“A guy like Ash, what he does a lot of players won’t do it. Those type of guys, who fight for their teammates and do all the dirty things in the game, they score a goal [and their teammates] are certainly happy for him,” head coach John Tortorella said. “Good for him. I’m happy for him.”
Hagelin, part of a newly-formed top line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, opened the scoring at 31 seconds by redirecting a Nash shot past Tampa starter Mathieu Garon.
Marc Staal chipped the puck ahead to Hagelin, who raced toward the Eighth Avenue goal with the defenseman and his linemates in tow. The second-year left wing snapped a low shot past Garon for his third of the season — all coming against the Lightning. He scored his first goal of the season in the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Lightning in Tampa on Feb. 2. It was his first goal since March 15.
“I saw a lot of guys focus on [Nash] and [Stepan] and [Staal] joining the rush,” Hagelin said. “I didn’t really have a lane to pass — you want to make a pass if you’re on a 4-on-2 — but they were all occupied by their ‘D’ so I saw an opening five hole and it went in.”
Garon only lasted 23:58 spanning the first and second periods before being replaced by Anders Lindback. Garon allowed the first three Rangers goals, while Lindback surrendered Asham’s marker. The Rangers outshot Tampa, 32-20, and the Lightning's top line of Steven Stamkos (minus-2 in 19:03), Martin St. Louis (minus-3 in 19:12) and Nate Thompson (minus-4 in 13:12) only generated eight shot attempts.
“This one was no good,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “We were trying our Hail Marys and hope play and were trying to cheat to get back in it. If we do that we don’t deserve it.”
The Rangers tied a season high in goals last night. They scored five against Toronto on Jan. 26. The Rangers are 4-0 this season when they score at least four goals.
“That’s what we needed,” Hagelin said. “It’s important for every guy to chip in. It’s always good when everyone contributes.”
While the offensive outburst will please Tortorella, there were defensive breakdowns in the first 40 minutes that are concerning. The Rangers allowed five odd-man rushes in the first period and the Lightning controlled play in the second period, with a 10-8 advantage in shots. That statistic does not begin to acknowledge the territorial advantage Tampa had.
“It’s a track meet and we can’t get into a track meet with them,” Tortorella said of the odd-man rushes. “I thought we gathered ourselves as the game went on and defended much better. Still had some turnovers but I thought our neutral zone play was much better as we went on our way.”
The Rangers entered the third with a 3-1 lead because Lundqvist put on Vezina-quality netminding. Tampa Bay’s lone goal — Vincent Lecavalier’s fifth of the season at 14:42 of the second — was directly attributable to an awful line change and an inability to clear the zone.
“Hank was great,” Nash said. “That’s why he’s the best goalie in the league and winning awards for it. He kept us in the game and he was unbelievable.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.