With so many recent callups, it’s hard not to wonder if tonight’s game will be a matchup of two New York teams.
The Syracuse Lightning versus the New York Rangers
The Lightning brought two more Crunch players up to the pro squad this morning, recalling F Mike Angelidis and D Luke Witkowski while also reassigning D Matt Taormina to the Crunch.
The Lightning now have five recent callups on the roster – Angelidis, Witkowski, Joel Vermin, Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden – and all five could see action tonight against the Rangers, who have won nine in a row following a 4-3 victory over Toronto on Sunday.
Tampa Bay is dealing with a number of injuries currently. Forwards Tyler Johnson (upper-body), Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and Cedric Paquette (upper-body) are all ruled out for tonight’s game, although Johnson participated in a red jersey during the team’s morning skate. Ryan Callahan (lower-body) is “questionable” and probably the only one of the Lightning’s injured skaters who could potentially play tonight. He was at the Bolts’ morning skate in a regular jersey.
“You don’t want to see your regular guys hurt, but you want to see the guys that come in contribute,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “And I look at our last game with all the guys from Syracuse that came up, they were outstanding for us. They gave us a chance to win that hockey game. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we need that effort from those guys tonight.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop, who was the first goalie off the ice for the Bolts this morning and will likely make his 16th start of the season tonight, said it will be important for the Lightning to play a strong team game with so many newcomers in the lineup.
“It’s an exciting time for them,” Bishop said. “It’s one of those things now where we’re missing a lot of key pieces, so it’s going to be important to come together as a team.”
Joel Vermin could play his first NHL game tonight should he be included in the lineup.
The 23-year-old forward has skated in 12 games with the Syracuse Crunch this season, tallying three goals, seven assists and 10 points.
He currently ranks tied for first on the Crunch for assists and points.
Vermin said it would be “a dream come true” to play tonight.
“I’m just excited,” Vermin said. “I can’t wait to play.”
Vermin said he called his parents and friends upon learning yesterday he was joining the Lightning.
“I couldn’t really believe it,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on.
Cooper said Vermin has “earned the right” to play with the Lightning after performing well in training camp and early this season with the Crunch.
“Here’s another product of somebody going to the American League and proving themselves,” Cooper said. “…The guys we’re calling up are the guys that are playing well down there.”
New York enters tonight’s contest on a roll having won nine-straight. The Rangers are one of three teams (Montreal, Dallas) atop the NHL standings with 30 points.
There will also be an undercurrent of revenge on the Rangers’ minds following last season’s seven-game Eastern Conference Final series that went in favor of the Lightning, making tonight’s challenge even more difficult for the Bolts.
“They’re the hottest team in the league,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “…We’re a team that’s obviously struggling right now. We’ve got some guys out of the lineup. Guys are going to get an opportunity to come in here. We just want to play a smart game. We don’t want to give a team with that much confidence any reason to feel any better about themselves. This is a big game for us and hopefully we come out and win a big one in front of our fans.”
Bishop said he always gets a bit amped playing the Rangers.
It shows in his results too against the Blueshirts.
Bishop has never lost in the regular season to New York, going 8-0-0 with two shutouts, a 1.49 GAA and a .946 save percentage. Bishop also shut out the Rangers in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, becoming the only goalie to beat the Rangers in a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
“Any time you play against some of the best in the game, you know you’ve got to be on your game,” Bishop said. “Obviously, (New York goalie Henrik) Lundqvist is one of the best, and it’s always fun to play against him.”
Tampa Bay has won four straight over the Rangers, including sweeping all three regular season games last season by a combined 15-7…Tonight’s meeting between the Lightning and Rangers is the first of three between the two teams…The Bolts are 3-7-2 over their last 12 games…The Lightning are ninth in the league for goals-against per game at 2.35.