Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers Preview and Game Day Thread
The final road trip of the year starts tonight under the bright lights of New York City.
Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers: GAME #78
Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Madison Square Arena
Opponent's Site: Blue Shirt Banter
Things are pretty much locked in for the first round of the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have clinched their spot and their opening round opponent - the Toronto Maple Leafs. While they can still move up to the second spot in the Atlantic Division, it's becoming increasingly unlikely. Entering today's game the Leafs have 102 points to the Lightning's 96 with both teams having played 77 games. Any combination of Toronto getting four points or Tampa Bay dropping four, and the Leafs will have secured the top spot.
So, what then, do the Lightning have to play for over the last five games of the season starting with the Rangers tonight? Honestly, plenty. While we've seen a marked improvement over the last week or so of hockey from them, they are still below water on the road and need to show that the success they've had at home can be carried over when they're away, especially since they likely won't have home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
This last road trip will be a solid test as they have the Rangers tonight, the Islanders tomorrow, and a nice revenge game against the Senators on Saturday. If they can take two out of three, they will finish the season at .500 on the road (20-20-1) and will have a solid boost in confidence heading into the second season.
They are also still trying to figure out some line rotations that will give them the best chance to win in the postseason. Pat Maroon - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn combination during this little winning streak and while they haven't been piling up the points, they have been fairly solid in terms of possession and driving play with a 63.71% edge in expected goals, and 68% edge in scoring chances while only allowing one high-danger chance against.
It seems Tanner Jeannot has settled onto the fourth line which should get them back to doing what they are best at - flipping the ice. If they can get their forecheck going and set up the other lines with possession in the offensive line, they are doing their job. Jeannot and his propensity to hit everything on the ice should help with that mission.
Finally, stay healthy. It looks like Mikhail Sergachev was a full participant in practice yesterday as he took a spot on his normal pairing and on the first power play unit. So, his early departure against the Islanders on Saturday was more likely out of precaution more than anything else.
Despite the emergence of Darren Raddysh as a viable everyday option, the defense is still where the Lightning are the thinnest in regards to depth, so a long-term loss of any of the top-six would be a big blow for their playoff chances. Will that lead to some "load maintenance" down the stretch?
Probably not. Coach Cooper has spoken out in the past about that not being something he thinks about during the season. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see some in-game management, especially for the older players. If the Lightning are enjoying a comfortable lead at any point, expect to see playing time spread out a little more.
As for the New York Rangers. They are in a similar spot as the Lightning. They are currently third in the Metropolitan Division. While not locked in, their first round opponent is likely to be the New Jersey Devils and the Rangers have a small chance to catch them. The Devils have 106 points while the Rangers have 101 with a game in hand.
After making a big splash around the trade deadline by acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane the Rangers made a solid run going 10-3-2 since the deadline. Kane has 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 16 games while Tarasenko has 16 (7 goals, 9 assists) in 26 games. They should give the Rangers a little more depth in the playoffs so that they don't have to rely completely on Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider for scoring.
On defense, Ryan Lindgren should be back on the top pair with Adam Fox after Lindgren missed 17 of the last 18 games with an upper-body injury. That gives them two solid pairings with K'Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba as their second line defense.
With solid wins against the playoff-bound Hurricanes and Islanders (probably) tonight will be another test to see where the Lightning stand against one of the better teams in the league. Expect another playoff style game with tight (hopefully legal) checking and the always fun battle of Vasy vs. Igor in net.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Steven Stamkos - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Pat Maroon - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Tanner Jeannot - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Nick Perbix
Mikhail Sergachev - Darren Raddysh
Ian Cole - Erik Cernak
Lines based on Tuesday's practice per Chris Krenn's Twitter.
New York Rangers Potential Lines
Chris Krieder - Mika Zibanejad - Patrick Kane
Artemi Panarin - Vincent Trocheck - Valdimir Tarasenko
Alexis Lafreniere - Filip Chytil - Kaapo Kakko
Jimmy Vesey - Barclay Goodrow - Tyler Motte
Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox
K'Andre Miller - Jacob Trouba
Niko Mikkola - Braden Schneider