RANGERS (13-10-1) at LIGHTNING (9-6-7)
Last 10 - Rangers 5-5-0; Lightning 5-2-3
Season series -- This is the first of four meetings between the Rangers and Lightning this season. New York swept the Bolts in four regular-season games in 2008-09, including taking both contests in the NHL Premiere series in Prague, Czech Republic, back on Oct. 4-5, 2008.
Big story -- New York has won two straight and can achieve its first winning streak of the season since reeling off seven consecutive victories in early October. The Lightning will play their second of three games over four nights. The Bolts lost in regulation for the first time in 10 home games when they were beaten 4-3 by Toronto on Wednesday; they visit Dallas on Saturday night.
Rangers -- The Blueshirts were appeared to be steadily working their way down the Eastern Conference standings until coach John Tortorella called a timeout with his team trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0 early in the first period at MadisonSquareGarden on Monday. Whatever Tortorella told his team seemed to do the trick; the Rangers scored seven unanswered goals to beat Columbus 7-4, then beat the Panthers 2-1 at Florida on Wednesday. Captain Chris Drury was back in the lineup against the Panthers after suffering a concussion against Calgary on Nov. 7 and made an instant impact by assisting on right wing Marian Gaborik's power-play goal.
The Rangers also recalled Hartford Wolfpack (AHL) defenseman and 2006 first-round pick Bobby Sanguinetti on Thursday. Sanguinetti leads all AHL defensemen with 22 points, which is also good for fourth overall in the league.
Lightning -- TampaBay has lost three of its last four games overall and has struggled against the Rangers in recent years, taking just two of its last nine games against the Blueshirts. However, the Bolts should conceivably have an advantage by playing at home, where they are 5-1-4 this season, but they have actually dropped three of their last four to the Rangers at St. Pete Times Forum.
Coach Rick Tocchet hopes his team does better on Friday after admitting his team was sluggish in the loss to the Leafs.
"Coming back from the road trip I knew it was going to be a grind for us," Tocchet said. "I think a couple guys looked tired, but we hung in there. We weren't mentally sharp."
Who's hot -- Gaborik is in the midst of an eight-game scoring streak for the Rangers, amassing 14 points over that span. The two-time All-Star has also scored 6 goals in six career games against the Lightning. For the Bolts, center Steven Stamkos has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in his last seven games.
Stat pack -- Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 7-2-0 with a 1.55 goals-against average and a shutout in his last nine games against the Lightning. … Proving that the sophomore jinx might only be a myth; Stamkos leads the Bolts with 26 points this season.
Puck drop -- It's no secret that New York has held a clear advantage over the Lightning in recent years, but don't expect the Bolts to simply lay down for the Rangers. Tampa has received great production from Stamkos and left wing Ryan Malone (both tied for the team lead with 15 goals), but team captain and perennial All-Star Vincent Lecavalier (5 goals) has still yet to find his scoring touch. If Lecavalier finally has his breakout game against New York, then the Rangers could be in for difficult night.
|M. Del Zotto||25||5||11||16||-1||14||3||1|
|M. St. Louis||23||5||23||28||-2||4||3||0|