Rangers @ Lightning
St. Pete Times Forum, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rangers record: 12-9-1
Lightning record: 12-7-2
The Rangers set off on their annual Thanksgiving week road trip on the heels of a gritty, physical win at the Garden on Monday night. The Blueshirts flew into Tampa Bay this morning in preparation for the game against the Lightning on Wednesday night, and they’ll battle the Florida Panthers on Friday night. Saturday, the Rangers take on the Nashville Predators to close out their three game road trip.
The two teams will face off without their respective captains; Chris Drury is still recovering from his broken finger, and Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier recently underwent surgery to repair a broken hand. However, former Philadelphia Flyer Simon Gagne, who has been out for a month with a sore neck and vision problems, may make his return against the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is projected to be in net for the Rangers against John Tortorella’s former club, after a hot Marty Biron took to the ice for the second game in a row Monday night.
Monday night’s game turned out to be a high-tempo, feisty game between the Rangers and the Flames, but such a contest is pretty rare between non-conference rivals. Several Rangers brought their ‘A’ game in physicality, including rookie Mike Sauer, who engaged in two fights, and Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal, who both delivered game-changing, monster hits. Although the Rangers have struggled in the past over Thanksgiving week, the team’s energetic, competitive play in last night’s game as well as Saturday night’s outing against the Wild will hopefully propel them to victory on the upcoming road trip, starting with the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning.
Wednesday night marks the first of four matchups between the Rangers and the Lightning. The Rangers will get a taste of scoring machine Steven Stamkos, who has only gone three games this season without a point. While the Rangers’ goal-scoring leader, Brandon Dubinsky, was at one point tied with Stamkos for the league lead, Stamkos has since then doubled his goal total to 20 in 21 games and extended his overall points total to 35. Lagging behind with the second-most points on the team is the Lightning’s always dependable alternate captain, Marty St. Louis. With 27 points, even St. Louis towers over Dubinsky, who enters Wednesday night’s game with 19 points. The young right-winger Teddy Purcell has also contributing to the team’s scoring recently. Third on the team in points, he has 2 goals and 2 assists in his past three games. Purcell scored the third goal of the Lightning’s 3-1 defeat of the Boston Bruins Monday night, pushing the team’s winning streak to four in a row.
The Rangers and the Lightning are neck-and-neck in the standings, and both teams are playing decisive, confident hockey. The Lightning, however, do not have the legitimate four-line scoring threat that the Rangers currently have. Nine different Rangers have scored game winning goals this season, and each line brings a grinding energy to the ice, as evidenced by Monday night’s game against the Flames and by many others this season. If the Rangers are able to contain Stamkos and St. Louis, and also shut down the Lightning’s #4 ranked power play, the Rangers should be able to come away with the W.