Rubber game; Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers preview

The Lightning close out the regular season series with the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. Can the Bolts - with Ben Bishop back in net - win the rubber game of the season series?

Where:  Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
When: 7 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt Banter, Ranger Pundit

While the Bolts have ended several season series at this point - each of those series' (or is it "serii"?) have been versus Western Conference opponents (Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and the Edmonton Oilers respectively.) Those seasonal matchups were all of two games, though. Tonight marks the first series finale against an Eastern Conference opponent in the New York Rangers.

And the Bolts are trying to win the rubber game of the series while playing the flip-side of back-to-back contests.  I won't elaborate on last night in Columbus (give Kyle your attention for he has delivered a recap), but I will remind you of the fact that the Lightning are playing five games in seven nights - this being the first of a pair of back-to-back games this week.  Having an undisciplined game last night and having to play again tonight doesn't bode well; a tired team makes more mistakes that leads to more penalties.

The Rangers are another up surging team in the Metro Division, 7-2-1 in their past 10 and winners of their past three games. They can thank the Lightning in part for helping their climb as the Bolts defeat of Philadelphia over the weekend gave them the opening to leapfrog the Flyers in the standings.

For Tampa Bay, standings wise, things remain static at the moment and the top 3 spots in the division remain unchanged.  The Boston Bruins took back sole control of first place a few hours after the Lightning beat Philly, and the Montreal Canadiens (currently a single point behind Tampa in the standings) waits patiently for their next opportunity to take back second place in the division.

Atlantic Standings

Boston 45 29 14 2 60
Tampa Bay 46 27 15 4 58
Montreal 46 26 15 5 57
Detroit 46 20 16 10 50
Toronto 47 22 20 5 49
Ottawa 46 20 18 8 48
Florida 45 17 21 7 41
Buffalo 44 13 26 5 31

(updated 1.14.2014 at 9:08 AM EST)

There hasn't been much in the way of reporting this morning; a team meeting was scheduled for noon and game notes haven't trickled out from it. One note that's hanging in the balance and leaving everyone wanting is who the starting goalie for tonight will be. Ben Bishop backed up Anders Lindback last night in Columbus, and Cedrick Desjardins was optioned back to Syracuse yesterday. Will Bishop return to starting duty or will Lindy get another go?

And... the answer seems to be Bishop in net, per Paul Kennedy tweet.

Missy Zelinski reports that head coach Jon Cooper wants to get forward Richard Banik back into the lineup tonight, but Cooper isn't quite sure who he'll take out so Panik finds his way back in.  Panik has 2 goals and 9 assists on the season; he's also a minus-8 while seeing much time on the Bolts lower lines.

One of the storylines that may or may not get mentioned about tonight's game is that there's a pair (trio?) of Calder Award candidates playing in it. Lightning fans are fully aware that Tyler Johnson is good at the hockey, and they've been impressed by his partner-in-crime, Ondrej Palat. The guy immediately in front of Johnson in the rookie scoring race is Chris Kreider, who has 27 points in 40 games for New York (11 goals, 15 assists) and is plus-11. Kreider, unlike Johnson or Palat, did a stint in the AHL this season, skating 6 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack (formerly the Connecticut Whale by way of Hartford Wolf Pack) and scoring 2 goals and 2 assists with the club.

It may all be moot, as the Calder darling is former #1 overall draft pick Nathan Mackinnon with the Colorado Avalanche who leads rookie scoring at this point. The conversation should be much broader than Mackinnon or other members of the 2013 NHL draft class and how they are doing in their debuts in the NHL. Kreider, Johnson and Palat all honed their games and paid their dues in the AHL before making the jump to NHL play this season. Maybe that dings their "rookie" bona fides, but there isn't any kind of limitation on the Calder Trophy to force it to be awarded to "true" rookies.

Coincidentally, we've got Tyler Johnson featured in our latest Top 25 Under 25 post.  Check it out one time, won't you?

Other Game Coverage:

Who will be / is the top rookie on the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning?

Mark Barberio6
Radko Gudas65
Tyler Johnson74
Ondrej Palat24
Andrej Sustr18