Game 39 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Rangers

After falling to the Canadiens in the skills competition, the Tampa Bay Lightning (23-11-4, 50 PTS) will take on the visiting New York Rangers (22-13-3, 47 PTS), which was victimized by a late goal in Friday’s loss to the Capitals, tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

With Ben Bishop in the crease, Tampa Bay managed a decisive shutout victory in the first meeting between the two clubs this year, a game made all the more memorable by Nikita Kucherov firing home his first shot on his first shift in the league. Head coach Jon Cooper is turning to Anders Lindback tonight, though, as the Bolts will be playing the tail-end of a back-to-back for the second time in six days. A healthy scratch for the past two matches, Richard Panik is also slated to return to the lineup in place of B.J. Crombeen. New York’s Conor Allen is reportedly set to make his NHL debut in the place of fellow defenseman Anton Stralman, who is expected to be out with a minor injury.

As has been the case in previous seasons, the Rangers have had difficulty putting the puck in the net consistently. Like the Canadiens, the struggle largely comes during 5v5 play, where New York has shot at a near league-worst 5.8% while opponents have converted at an 8.3% clip. The good news for the Rangers is that this probably isn’t bound to last. New York shot 7.3% (which still put them in the bottom-third) while holding competition to a 6.5% clip (which tied Ottawa for the league’s best mark) and the club’s shot attempt differential per 60 minutes of 5v5 action is nearly identical to what it managed last season. Put bluntly, some regression seems likely, especially if New York can maintain its healthy possession metrics. How significant it will be, though, is far less predictable.

In the thick of a divisional traffic jam, New York — limping along of late — is fortunate to still have a reasonable shot at qualifying for the postseason but it is hard to imagine a strong second-half run without star netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has lost eleven (one in overtime and another in the shootout) of the last fifteen games played and allowed three or more goals in each of his last seven matches, putting together a much better body of work than he has to this point. Given the stark contrast in how the skaters have played in front of backup Cam Talbot, the blame doesn’t fall solely on Lundqvist, who recently agreed to a long-term extension, but his early results under new head coach Alain Vigneault have been anything but satisfactory. Lundqvist will get another chance to turn the corner as well as avenge his disastrous showing in Tampa last month as he will be in net tonight for the Rangers.

With a point earned after finding their rhythm and turning the tables on the Canadiens for a bit, the Lightning come into the match having lost in regulation just once in its last ten games as well as in its the past ten home contests. It will be interesting to see what kind of effort and pace the Lightning can muster and sustain with the short turnaround but a win here would put the Bolts just a couple point behind the Bruins for the top spot in the Atlantic division and within reach of closing out this fourth season segment in high-style by potentially securing all but 3 of the 20 points possible. It would be a heady feather in the cap for a club still making do without its premier goalscorer and make positive results in the coming trek out West more of a bonus than a necessity.

NOTES


Season Series


TAMPA BAY LEADS 1-0
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Rosters


LIGHTNING RANGERS
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STATPACK

 

Team

TOI, POSSESSION & SCORING TOTALS
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POSSESSION & SCORING RATES
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POSSESSION, SCORING & SHOOTING PERCENTAGES
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Special Teams

POWER PLAY
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PENALTY KILL
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Goaltending

ON-ICE TOTALS
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ON-ICE RATES
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ON-ICE PERCENTAGES
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Scoring

LIGHTNING
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RANGERS
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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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