Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers: Game #68
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Madison Square Gardens
Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, MSG, SUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Blue Shirt Banter
Tonight, the Rangers are on the second half of a back-to-back. They currently sit in the unattainable first wild card slot in the East with 90 points, slotted to square off against Montreal in the first round -- an enviable position for a Metro team. The three teams at the top of Metro are some of the best currently in the NHL, with Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus sitting at 1, 2, and 3 in the league. Rangers sit at 6th place; Tampa sits at 18th.
On the other hand, the Rangers are 6-4-0 in their last ten games, while Tampa is 7-2-1. Vasilevskiy has recently caught fire, sporting a ridiculous .956 SV% in the six games since Ben Bishop was traded to the LA Kings, with only one overtime loss -- but that loss came on March 6 against Annti Raanta and the Rangers. How do these teams match up? Sadly Raanta is playing some of the best hockey of his career too, and out of 24 games played, he's won 14 of them, for a .924 SV%.
Post-morning-skate edit: Peter Budaj will start tonight! More on that in a second.
Henrik Lundqvist is out with an injured hip, and will not return for two to three weeks. Raanta played last night in the Rangers' 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings. Will he play again, or will it be AHL callup Magnus Hellberg? At 90 points, the Rangers are in a comfortable position to rest Raanta and play Hellberg instead. In 31 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Hellberg sports a .902 SV% with 2.91 goals against -- these are odds that Tampa could use in their favor.
Sadly, the Rangers have also recently ended their scoring drought. Their top three lines are rolling pretty evenly in terms of success, with Kevin Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, and Derek Stepan providing the Rangers with a solid core down the middle. Stepan said that he had to call Martin St. Louis for advice during his 23-game goal drought, broken just last night with a garbage goal against the red wings. "He gave me some good advice," Stepan told NHL.com, "He's a guy that I'm going to continue to lean on. He's got a lot of experience, and he can relate to me pretty strongly." That’s...nice.
This kind of three-line offensive juggernaut generally indicates that the team can go deep in the playoffs (which, let's face it, is basically all about the Metro division this season). Left-hand D Brendan Smith was acquired at the trade deadline and has already contributed two goals, yet another potential threat.
The Bolts, on the other hand, have just recalled Byron Froese to help their 11-forward situation. Read much more about Tampa’s forward depth over here.
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Byron Froese - Vladislav Namestnikov
JT Brown - Gabriel Dumont - Luke Witkowski
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
New York Rangers
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
Pavel Buchnevich - Mika Zibanejad - Rick Nash
Michael Grabner - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller
Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - Jimmy Vesey
Marc Staal - Ryan McDonagh
Nick Holden - Brendan Smith
Brady Skjei - Steve Kampfer