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A New York state of mind; Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers

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Closing out the season series with the New York Rangers as the first-half of a quick back-to-back stint in the Empire State.

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Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
When:  7 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, NHL Network (US), MSG, TVA Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt BanterSave by Richter

We won't over-play the Martin St. Louis thing this time around. Honest... OK, except for this sentence and the poll attached to the article (it concludes during game play, just so you know). We won't make a stink about Marty now having 19 points on the season and reaching 1000 points for his career which is worth congratulations to him for reaching the milestone.  I'm not going to play up the fact he's overdue to make a reckoning against Tampa Bay (a lone goal, Marty? Really?).

Nope, not going to play Marty's presence and ability up because Tampa Bay needs to be in a New York state of mind for the next 36 hours or so starting tonight at Madison Square Garden in the city and concludes at First Niagara Center in Buffalo against the Sabres tomorrow.

Tonight the season series between the Bolts and the Rangers comes to an end exactly two weeks after it started at the Garden. Last time around, the story was reunions. This time around, the storyline is face-saving for the Rangers who are in 3rd in the Metro Division at current... This is a New York team that has won 4 of their past 5, with those wins combine for a score of 15-2 in the Rangers favor. Those Rangers are capable of being a lot more potent and a lot more stingy than the previous two contest with the Lightning have shown (where Tampa Bay has outscored them 9-4).

Then again, the consistency and ability of the Tampa Bay Lightning at current - 16-6-2 and at the top of the NHL; 85 goals for and 64 allowed - may be a testament that the Lightning are in another competition class than the Rangers at the moment: the league's elite.

The Lightning have two scoring lines with the tandem of Steen Stamkos and Ryan Callahan (with either Alex Killorn or Valtteri Filppula on the left wing) and the TKO trio (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov) being the top threats... But it doesn't end there, and that's what can make the Lightning so potent - getting points from the 3rd and 4th lines and offense generally being enabled by defensive contributions.  Add in a top-notch goalie in Ben Bishop and you have a (mostly) complete team to deal with in all facets of the game. I say "mostly" because Evgeni Nabokov as backup has been suspect... And we've already seen the Lightning overwork Bishop (last season).

Starting goalies haven't been named, but you'd expect Ben Bishop to go tonight for the Lightning (14-3-2, 2.37 GAA and a rising .917 save percentage). If that's the case he'll (likely) face Henrik Lundqvist again. The King's record has been mixed (9-6-3, 2.57 GAA, .911 save percentage) but with 4 shutouts to his name... well, it's Hank. He's not nicknamed the King for nothing. While I mention Bishop likely starting tonight, it's partly due to wondering about tomorrow that makes me mention it; depending on how many shots Bish faces tonight, do you go with him again tomorrow? Do you write off the Sabres (erroneously, just ask Montreal) and start Nabokov? Or do you make a transaction - a recall / demotion - for the day and give Kristers Gudlevskis or Andrei Vasilevskiy a look-see while you're in the neighborhood?  It's a question worth pondering.

Steven Stamkos is among the top in points in the NHL with 28 on the season (5 behind NHL leader Sidney Crosby), he's 1 goal behind Tyler Seguin and Rick Nash for the league lead (15 goals for stammer, 16 for Nash and Seguin).

One final note - this will be the third game in four nights for the Rangers, who had a back-to-back, home-and-home series with the Flyers on Friday and Saturday. While those two games were victories for the Rangers, the pacing can wear a team down - Tampa Bay went through it during their western Canada jaunt in October.

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