Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby, left, checks New York Rangers\' Patrick Rissmiller as Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo, right, of Finland, makes a save during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game Thursday night, Sept. 25, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bill Kostroun
NEW YORK - Two quick strikes in the third period gave the Lightning a boost before heading off to Europe.
It will still be another week before games count for real, but Tampa Bay finished its North American portion of the pre-season with a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
After a fast change of clothes and some roster cuts, the Lightning left Madison Square Garden for a ride to the airport and an overnight flight to the Czech Republic, where they will open the regular season with a two-game set against the Rangers in Prague next weekend.
Ryan Malone and Martin St. Louis scored 2:18 apart in the third period to rally the Lightning. Tampa Bay pulled off the late comeback despite being outshot 47-25. Karri Ramo was in goal for the entire game and was sharp in making 45 saves.
"We played awful," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said. "Our goalie gave us a chance to win. We battled hard in the third, moved the puck well and showed a lot of composure and found a way to win."
New York had 18 shots in each of the first two periods but produced only a pair of goals from Dan Fritsche and Lauri Korpikoski. Backup goalie Steve Valiquette also was in the nets for the whole game, giving Henrik Lundqvist the night off.
"It was unfortunate. We played hard," new Rangers defenceman Wade Redden said. "We had a lot of shots ... if we got a few of those rebounds, maybe it's a different game. We had a few empty nets that didn't cash for us."
The Rangers played for the fourth straight night and lost their third consecutive - including a defeat at Tampa Bay that started the skid on Tuesday. New York has been going with a bit of a split squad since it began a pre-season schedule of six games in eight days before heading to Europe.
The Rangers will face New Jersey at home Saturday before flying that night to Switzerland to take part in the Victoria Cup. The Lightning will also play a pair of exhibition games in Europe before taking on the Rangers for real.
"It's tough because they don't have their whole lineup, we don't have our own lineup," St. Louis said. "You're trying to get the cobwebs out and get on the same page as a team more than anything."
Fritsche, who came to the Rangers in a big summer deal with Columbus, gave New York a 1-0 lead 8:58 into the first period with a snap shot from the dot in the middle of the right circle. Chris Gratton tied it at 11:37.
Korpikoski netted his second goal of the pre-season at 7:56 of the middle period, slipping a shot past Ramo.
Then came the late Lightning strikes in the third.
Rookie Steven Stamkos, the top overall pick in this year's NHL draft, rushed down the middle of the Rangers zone before being stopped by Valiquette. The rebound came right out in front to Malone for the goal at 2:18.
Tampa Bay took its only lead of the game soon after when Matt Carle fired the puck down the ice, where St. Louis tracked it down in the New York end. He outskated defenceman Dmitri Kalinin and let go a backhander that beat Valiquette over the left shoulder, popping up the water bottle on top of the net.
Evgeny Artyukhin added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds, with an assist from Stamkos, to make it 4-2.
"They're a good team. We knew that and we respect them," Melrose said of the Rangers. "We've got to play better if we're going to beat them in Prague."