NEW YORK – Erik Christensen didn’t know his role when the New York Rangers claimed him on waivers from Anaheim in December.
Christensen has emerged as more than a spare part. He had his finest game as a Ranger, scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Lightning on Sunday.
“I think it’s been a steady climb since I got here.” Christensen said. “I was unsure of myself when I first got here, trying to keep my head down. I didn’t know what to expect. Management had been working with me to become a more confident person, and a more confident player.”
Christensen certainly looked poised as he led the way for the Rangers, who head into the Olympic break on a two-game winning streak.
Sean Avery, Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury also scored for the Rangers, who fell behind 2-0 in the first period.
“We try to get off to good starts every day, every game,” Drury said. “Some nights we can turn it on and win, but we are not consistent. Starts are crucial and we should be looking, when we get back, to improve on our starts.”
The win allowed the Rangers to tie the Lightning at 63 points, one point behind eighth-place Montreal for the post-season cutoff in the Eastern Conference.
Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie scored for the Lightning, who have lost three in a row following a season-high four-game winning streak.
“We don’t feel very good,” Stamkos said. “Losing three in a row heading into the break is not acceptable, especially in the race that we’re in. We should use this break to really think about the next 21 games we have. It’s embarrassing the way we’ve played these last three games after going on that little run.”
Trailing 2-0, the Rangers scored four unanswered goals in the second period.
Avery got it started for New York with a goal on a penalty shot at 1:40. Avery skated toward the Lightning net, swinging wide left before lifting a shot over Mike Smith.
“Avery’s shot was a great move and a big goal for us,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who made 27 saves in his final tuneup before heading to Vancouver to represent Sweden. “I challenged him a couple of times in practice and told him he would never do that move in a game. It was awesome.”
Then Christensen took over, scoring twice and setting up another to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead.
With the teams skating four-on-four, Christensen carried the puck behind the Lightning goal before sending it into the slot. Marc Staal had the first swipe before Prospal hammered it home to extend his goal-scoring streak to three games.
Prospal then returned the favour, setting up Christensen for the tally at 12:06 that put the Rangers up 3-2.
Christensen did it all on his second goal, skating two zones to beat Smith to the stick side for an unassisted tally at 13:52.
Stamkos missed an opportunity early in the third, and the Lightning couldn’t rally.
“It’s tough,” Stamkos said. “Their goalie made some big saves and I hit the crossbar.”
Drury closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal for his 250th career tally and 600th point.
Stamkos had a goal and an assist as the Lightning took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
The Lightning opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 15:33 as Stamkos’ shot from the left point that appeared to hit a Rangers defender and trickle between the pads of Lundqvist.
For Stamkos, the tally was his team-leading 35th and extended his point-scoring streak to 13 games, tying the team record held by Brian Bradley, Martin St. Louis and Prospal.
Downie deflected a shot from Stamkos at 17:03 to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead.
NOTES: The Lightning recalled veteran RW Mark Parrish from Norfork (AHL) on Sunday. He had previously played 704 games in the NHL with 216 goals and 169 assists with Florida, the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota and Dallas. … The Rangers were missing two of their top offensive players, RW Marian Gaborik and D Michael Del Zotto. Both were sidelined with skate cuts. … Enforcer Jody Shelley, acquired from San Jose on Friday, made his Rangers debut. He filled the role of Donald Brashear, farmed out Saturday to Hartford (AHL). … Marriage proposals have become commonplace on stadium video boards. A hopeful groom received a rude shock during the second period on Valentine’s Day when the prospective bride put a hand over her face and shook her head no, declining the offer before bolting from her seat.