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Rangers-Lightning Preview @NHL
Rangers-Lightning Preview

GAME: New York Rangers (9-5-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (7-7-2).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

Superstar Jaromir Jagr leads the Rangers in goals and points, but it's been the surprising strong play of a group of unheralded youngsters that has New York sitting atop the Atlantic Division.

The Rangers hope rookies Petr Prucha and Henrik Lundqvist continue to flourish as they visit the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning.

Prucha's stick-handling talents have helped the Rangers to two shootout wins. The 23-year-old Lundqvist leads the team with six wins and a 1.87 goals-against average.

New York also has the second-best penalty-killing unit in the league, thanks in large part to the play of rookies Dominic Moore, 25, and Blair Betts, 25.

Prucha scored the only goal in the shootout Wednesday to give the Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers. It was the second time in five nights Prucha scored the game-winner in a shootout, New York's only winners this season in the tiebreaker format.

"I don't think about what I do," said Prucha, who gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory over New Jersey on Saturday. "It was the same thing as last time. I saw the goalkeeper in the net, so I shot the puck up. Lucky goal."

Prucha has three goals in 11 games this season.

Moore tied the game at 3-3 with three seconds left in the third period, and Lundqvist stopped all four shots by the Panthers in the shootout.

"I was a little nervous," Lundvist said. "It's a big challenge facing skilled players. But it's fun when you win."

The Lightning suffered through several losing seasons before their youngsters finally emerged to lead them to the 2003-2004 Stanley Cup title.

Tampa Bay has not looked as sharp this season, losing four straight to drop to 7-7-2 after 16 games. The losing streak is the defending champions' longest since Dec. 9-16, 2003.

Montreal's Jose Theodore turned away 32 shots as the Canadiens handed Tampa Bay a 3-2 loss on Tuesday. Tim Taylor and Vinny Prospal scored for the Lightning.

STANDINGS (through Nov. 9): Rangers - 21 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Lightning - 16 points, 2nd place, 7 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 14 goals and 25 points; Martin Straka, 15 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 30 PIM. Lightning - Vincent Lecavalier, 10 goals; Vaclav Prospal, 12 assists and 21 points; Pavel Kubina, 28 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 9): Rangers - Power play: 18.4 percent (19 for 103), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 88.1 percent (104 for 118), 2nd. Lightning - Power play: 13.0 percent (14 for 107), 26th (tied). Penalty killing: 86.7 percent (72 for 83), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Kevin Weekes (3-3-1, 0 SO, 3.11 GAA); Lundqvist (6-2-2, 1, 1.87). Lightning - Sean Burke (2-0-1, 0, 1.56); John Grahame (5-6-1, 1, 2.78).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: March 12, 2004. Lightning, 5-2. At Tampa Bay, Martin St. Louis scored two goals and assisted on a third to lead the Lightning.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 4-3-1 on the road; Lightning - 3-3-1 at home.

Associated Press
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