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NHL scores 2015: For the Rangers and Lightning, half a year can change everything

December 2015 looks drastically different than June 2015.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It probably doesn't feel as sweet as avenging that elusive Game 7 victory, but winning out in the final game of a quite dismal month of December has to feel good for the Rangers. In a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Final that saw the Lightning take a 2-0 win in Game 7 over the Rangers, New York got the last laugh here, beating Tampa Bay in their home barn 5-2 for just their fourth win of the month.

Former Lightning forward Dan Boyle got it started for the Rangers with a goal two minutes in, and New York scored three straight in the third to cap off their 2015 year on a high note that hasn't been hit often this season. The way the Rangers have played over the last month has dropped them out of first place in the Metropolitan Division, with the Washington Capitals now owning the first spot with a 12-point lead heading into the new year.

Similarly, the Lightning have faced some troubles this season, as well. Scoring is down, and while their goaltending has done more or less what's been expected, Tampa Bay has not seemed like the dynamic offensive dynamo they've become known as over the past few years. Now, the Dallas Stars have stolen their proverbial thunder as the most electric offensive team in the league. As such, Tampa Bay sits at sixth in the Atlantic Division, though they're six points out of first thanks to the logjam of the teams in front of them.

From the best teams in the East one season to barely contenders in the next, it's strange just how much teams can change with so little done to their rosters at all. New York moved a piece in Carl Hagelin and lost Martin St. Louis to retirement, but they also added a solid backup in Antti Raanta and the young legs of Emerson Etem. Not blockbusters, for sure, but those few moves were supposed to make a contender, not break one. Suddenly, Henrik Lundqvist looks as human as he ever has while their offense has gone deathly cold.

For the Lightning, the scoring woes of Steven Stamkos have been well noted, so much so that trade rumors of the star have never been more at a peak. The Triplets Line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov has been silent outside of Kucherov's 27 points that places second on the team. Tampa Bay seemingly lacks that speed that made them so deadly to play against that got them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks last year.

It's certainly nice to see fresh blood penetrate the league's best instead of the same old we've come to expect over the years, but at the same time, how the mighty have taken quite large falls since June.

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (SO)

Washington Capitals 5, Buffalo Sabres 2

New Jersey Devils 3, Ottawa Senators 0

New York Rangers 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

San Jose Sharks 4, Philadelphia Flyers 2

3 things we learned

1. Jack Eichel is still around, and he's good

This year's second-most talked about rookie might not be leading in any of the scoring races, but he's still an integral part of the Buffalo Sabres and their rebuild plans. Jack Eichel and the Sabres couldn't quite match up to the Metro's best in Washington, but the rookie had assists on each of Buffalo's two scores in the 5-2 loss. His second was more of a fluke than anything else on Zemgus Girgensons' pop up tally, but his first was quite the no-look backhander that set up the Sabres early against the Capitals.

2. Cory Schneider is putting together a potential award-winning season

#VezinaForSchneider? Potentially, if the New Jersey Devils goaltender has anything to say about it. Schneider is top 10 in the league in 11 of the 12 categories NHL.com lists on their player pages, a strange feat for a New Jersey team many expected to be clear contenders for to prospect Auston Matthews coming into next June. The Devils themselves have been a surprising player in the playoff race, as they sit at 43 points for fourth in the Metro. A big reason for that? Their goaltender.

3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh goaltending hero?

Fans in Pittsburgh might be getting the glimpse of their future in net and if it's anything like what we've seen, it's good. With normal starter Marc-Andre Fleury just returning to practice after suffering a concussion, 21-year-old netminder Matt Murray has been sharing goaltending duties with Jeff Zatkoff. Murray, however, has been the most consistent of the pair, having posted a .917 save percentage or above in four games played so far. The Penguins may have lost to the visiting Leafs, but Murray was a huge reason why Pittsburgh took Toronto to a shootout.

Impact Moment

Joe Pavelski had the game winner for the Sharks on this slap shot late in the game past Steve Mason. The Flyers finish out the year with three losses in their last four games.

Stat of the Night

Washington keeps on rolling, and they can potentially take a one-point lead atop the league into the new year depending on how Dallas fares Thursday night.

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